Wallabies aim to start Grand Slam tour in style

Australia coach Robbie Deans will be under particular pressure to deliver a victory when the Wallabies face an injury-hit England at Twickenham on Saturday in the first leg of their grand slam tour.

A run of six defeats in the Wallabies’ last seven Tests has been offset by the fact those games have been against the best two teams on the planet in world champions South Africa and New Zealand.

England, even with star fly-half Jonny Wilkinson fit at a time when so many other senior players are injured, are not in that class and Martin Johnson’s team features just four starters from their last Six Nations match in March.

Nearly half the England side that will run out at Twickenham are still in single figures in terms of Test caps, including full-back Ugo Monye, centre Shane Geraghty and prop David Wilson.

Some of the novices are exciting, with 6ft 7in and 17-and-a-half stone wing Matt Banahan promising plenty of pace and power – if England can get the ball to him.

Therein lies the rub for England. In last year’s corresponding fixture Australia won 28-14 after dominating the forward exchanges and the scrum – an area long regarded by England as a Wallaby weakness.

But England, fielding a new look front-row which sees World Cup winning hooker Steve Thompson, who briefly retired from rugby in 2007, making his first Test start in three years, now regard Wallaby prop Benn Robinson as the best loosehead in the Tri-Nations.

“It’s no good talking like Tarzan and playing like Jane,” said Thompson in what was a neat summation of his World Cup-winning captain Johnson’s approach.

Australia, who have shown they can play no-frills rugby, head into the weekend with a new and potentially dynamic centre-pairing in the Queensland duo of Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane.

However, it may be asking too much for Australia to match the thrilling back play that was such a feature of the 1984 Wallabies, whose achievements the current side seek to emulate by completing a grand slam of wins over England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales on the one tour.

Meanwhile, for all the talk of Wilkinson’s influence, Australia have a tactically astute stand-off in Matt Giteau who, as he showed at Twickenham last year, can dictate terms if provided with a platform by the forwards.

And with experienced flanker George Smith, long a thorn in England’s side, back in the starting team, England’s all-Leicester back-row will have to have their wits about them at the breakdown especially as Australia will be captained by Rocky Elsom.

The back-row forward was outstanding in helping Irish province Leinster win last season’s European Cup final against Leicester before he returned home.

“Rocky is an influential character. He’s a strong man with a strong mind and is a good bloke to have alongside you,” said Deans.

“His team-mates feed off that. He doesn’t like to give ground and has the ability to inspire until the end.”

Yet, as if all too aware that the odds are, for once, in his favour, Deans was irritated by suggestions his side, beaten 32-19 by the All Blacks in Tokyo last weekend, would start favourites.

“Saturday is the toughest game because it’s England at Twickenham -that’s the way it is,” said Deans.

“We’ll have to earn everything we get.”

Last November saw Johnson endure a torrid start to his managerial career with the loss to Australia mild in comparison to the defeats England suffered at the hands of South Africa (42-6) and New Zealand (32-6).

“Trust” has been the watchword of his time in charge, particularly in the need for players to have faith in the team’s defence so as to prevent kickable penalties for the opposition.

And now Johnson believes the message is getting through.

“The guys you play Test matches with have to trust each other.

That wasn’t there at the start but we’ve been building it up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.