Strengths and Weaknesses
Strength: Set Piece
As shown by their incredible scrummaging efforts against South Africa and New Zealand, England’s scrummaging and rolling mauls are one of their greatest strengths. Despite missing Props Mako Vunipola, Alex Corbisiero, and Dan Cole, the English have a depth in the front row that is unparralleled in world rugby. With their reserve front row dominating the rest of the world, the Wallabies are going to need to be perfect with ball in hand to minimise the damage of the English scrum.
By picking Tom Wood over James Haskell at blindside flanker, England gain another excellent lineout option – taking their total number of options to 4 (even maybe 5), additionally bolstered by the return of their first choice Hooker in Dylan Hartley. With all these aerial threats, it’s a surprise that the Wallabies brought back Sean McMahon for this test. Luke Jones’ jumping experience would have been very beneficial to the Wallabies in restricting the impact of the English set piece.
In the backline, George Ford is a talented flyhalf who has the ability to unlock his dangerous outside backs by passing or cross field kicking. The Wallabies will have their hands full defending the English if they decide to really attack to their full potential. Jonny May, the English left winger, is a machine – tall, fast, and strong. Look out for him at the set piece, the battle with Henry Speight should be fantastic.
Strength: Kicking game
While I mentioned above that Ford had the ability to kick to his wingers, I didn’t explain fully – Ford is an absolute weapon at first receiver, and has the best tactical boot in English Rugby, which is saying something. To boot (pardon the pun), Ford is an accurate goalkicker who won’t hesitate clocking up runs on the board to build early scoreboard pressure on the Wallabies. Given the recent run of poor discipline from the Australians it would seem he’ll get plenty of shots.
With the addition of Tom Wood to the forward pack, England have a pack that is both dynamic running the ball and hard-nosed in defence. England have publicised their desire to slow Australian rucks to 4 to 5 second affairs, and will haven taken note of the great linespeed of the French and Irish in unsettling Wallaby attackers. With Kuridrani out, Australia’s back three must pick up the slack in midfield. Henry Speight and Rob Horne are both damaging runners when on song, so utilising them effectively in combination with Israel Folau is of paramount importance.
What will undoubtedly shore up the midfield defence for the English is the inclusion of “The Rock” Brad Barritt at 13. He’s renowned throughtout world rugby for his uncomprising defence. Billy Twelvetrees at 12 is no slouch, either.
Weakness: Southern Hemisphere Rugby?
One of the only real discernible weaknesses of the England team is their weakness to Southern Hemisphere Rugby. England have gone 1/6 against Southern teams, and 4/5 against Northern Hemisphere. New Zealand are probably Australia’s most similar rivals in attacking style, and England have dropped 4/4 against the high powered Black Attack. If the Walabies can channel some of that All Black aura England will not enjoy this contest.
Strength: Ball in hand rugby
The Wallabies indisputed strength is playing ball in hand rugby. Cheika’s attacking systems highlight the incredible skill of many of our players.
Under Michael Cheika the Wallabies have shown a fondness for playing skillful, fast paced attacking rugby. Some of the tries scored by the Wallabies in recent weeks have been pretty spectacular – Nick Phipps’ 2 against Ireland spring to mind – and there are very few teams in the world that could hope to defend that level of ball in hand skill.
Weakness: “Plan B”
Australia’s commitment to running rugby can be a weakness, though, if there is no Plan B. We saw against the French in Melbourne that we struggle to play defensive rugby, and if our running can’t overcome England’s defence than we need to know how to kick effectively. It’s not something that can be mastered in a week, but tactical kicking needs to become an arrow in the Wallaby quiver, especially in these British conditions. Quade Cooper showed flashes of it in Ireland, so hopefully it can rub off on Foley and Toomua!
Weakness: Kick Defence
Aside from Israel Folau, none of our backs are world class under the high ball. Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Quade Cooper, and Adam Ashley-Cooper all registered handling errors on kick returns, and Henry Speight and Israel Folau were both caught out of position. England will definitely give us a taste of that on Sunday morning.
I’ll be there in the Press Box at Twickenham Stadium, giving you all my thoughts on the final test of 2014 for the Wallabies.