England clinched the series in Melbourne last Saturday but the show must go on with the final match of the series to be played out in Sydney. Pride is on the line for Australia, while the tourists will be keen demoralise their hosts with a clean sweep.
The Wallabies have made a few of changes to their starting line up with locking duo Sam Carter and Rory Arnold dropped from the twenty three. Rob Simmons regains his starting spot from the first test and large human Will Skelton joins him in the second row, his first taste of test rugby this year. Carter and Arnold both played their roles reasonably well in Melbourne, although, like much of Australia’s team, they didn’t nail down their positions either.
In the backs, rookie centre Samu Kerevi has been left out of the match day squad and has been replaced by Matt Toomua in the twelve jersey having returned from injury. Kerevi would feel a little hard done by as he was something of a rare success story for the Wallabies in the last two tests. Cheika’s decision is most likely based on wanting his twelve to be a second playmaker, something Toomua is more able to provide.
The bench reveals four changes, showing a bias a towards bulk. Loose head Scott Sio earns a chance to redeem himself after being dropped following the first test in Brisbane. Powerhouse winger Taqele Naiyaravoro gets a chance to earn his second Wallaby cap while towering Force lock Adam Coleman has an opportunity to become the first Tasmanian to play for the Wallabies (professional era). The other change is veteran number eight Wycliff Palu. Palu had a great hit out against the Chiefs heading into the international break, so can hopefully bring that form.
England has made one change to their squad. Ex-Kiwi Teimana Harrison is set to start a test match for the first time in place of the injured James Haskell. Marland Yarde was slated to replace Jack Nowell although the winger has overcome a mild concussion.
England’s bench remains the same.
England will miss Haskell, but their dominance has been based around teamwork rather than individual brilliance so I don’t think they lose too much.
Skelton vs Itoje
This is a bit of a mis-match, Maro Itoje is shaping himself as the world’s premier lock. Tall, athletic and skillful he’s the full package, only lacking John Eales goal kicking prowess, but nobody’s perfect.
Debuting against France, Will Skelton looked like a man amongst boys, such was his size and surprising skill. Two years later, however, he has failed to be consistently more than a flat track bully. Skelton’s last match in gold was against Uruguay during the world cup, where he injured his shoulder.
This will be a great opportunity for Skelton to regain a footing in the Wallaby camp. If he can realise some of his potential and compete admirably against the class of Itoje, he’s sure to go up the pecking order.
What this matchup is really about though is watching two enormous humans collide each other, that’s something worth paying to see.
Farrell & Ford vs Foley & Toomua
George Ford and Owen Farrell are gelling nicely, both making the most of limited opportunities to contribute in attack. The opposite could be said of Foley, who had plenty of cracks at England’s line without unlocking it.
This week Cheika has drafted in playmaker Matt Toomua to partner with Foley. As Toomua is more able to act as a second distributer he might be the missing ingredient needed to spark Australia’s somewhat predictable attack. My only concern is that Matt is returning from injury to play test rugby, which would seem a bit of a risk.
Farrell and Ford are clearly the better kicking duo, they were both great from hand in Melbourne and Owen was robotic as ever from the tee. Foley may be more dangerous with Toomua to use as his foil, but you feel that England’s inside pairing is only getting better. Whoever looks the best out of this matchup, will almost certainly be the victors.
We know how both teams will play this fixture. England will likely dominate the set piece, both scrum and lineout, the latter enhanced by Australia’s inclusion of non jumping lock Will Skelton. Australia will try to out work and work out England, stretching the defense, looking for a mismatch. England’s is the safer and better executed of the styles, while Australia’s is potentially more rewarding.
This match will rest largely on the morale of both camps. Are the Aussies damaged, feeling humiliated? Or are they fired up and thirsty for revenge? Have the English already checked their bags and started thinking about the off season, job done? Or has Eddie kept them craving a three-nil result to feel satisfied?
While any result is on the cards here, I think Australia might just want this more. The last two matches have required mammoth efforts from the English, if the Australians can demand another eighty minutes of the visitors, cracks might show. It will be tough though.
Australia by 2
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 James Slipper.
Reserves: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Wycliff Palu , 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Christian Lealiifano, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Teimana Harrison, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola.
Reserves: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Courtney Lawes, 21 Jack Clifford, 22 Danny Care, 23 Elliot Daly.
Date: Saturday, June 25
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 20.00 AEST (11.00 UK time; 10.00 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)