Last week I predicted that England would win by 3. In one sense they almost did, with Australia chasing the game at the death and coughing up a try when running the ball from deep.
But, like that last point, the game turned on so many one-off factors that each twist pretty much balanced itself out over an enthralling match.
That means we must look for trends and not margins to see why England will win next week. Instead of focusing on a few captaincy, option-taking, selection or refereeing decisions, let’s reason on what’s really going to make a difference. They are not smoking hot. Instead they are a pleasant tea-drinking hot, with enough bite to do the job for England.
England will improve faster this week
In England we know that there’s nothing tougher to beat than an Aussie who’s just lost. Plus, with a bit of team rustiness swept away, you would expect a better Wallabies’ performance in the next match.
The team’s balance is likely to improve, with a more traditional back-row, a bit more grit in the second row and two play-makers in midfield.
However, England need only to make a couple of tweaks to a winning team. That gives them more time to hone their team-work. They will look hard at the first 20 minutes to see where they can reduce the Aussie ball time in the attacking zone. They learnt on-the-job last weekend and so will be better prepared for that sort of onslaught this weekend.
Set piece confidence
The Ledesma pack didn’t impose itself like it did in the World Cup and the lineout faltered. England, on the other hand, looked more like the force it used to be. It’s hard to see much difference this week – perhaps one or two less penalties in favour of England.
Ominously for Stephen Moore and his forwards, I think that we haven’t seen the full England driving maul come into effect yet.
Though I would love to see an open game, I think this match will come down to penalties. Bernard Foley is a good (and long) kicker under pressure, but he’s not yet world class.
Owen Farrell, who I sense is a player that other teams love to hate, is close to the top of tree now. Give away a penalty in your own half at your peril.
That changes a team’s mindset a bit. You don’t want too much possession in your own half in case you cough up a penalty. Australia may kick out-of-hand more than they run this time around.
England, on the other hand, will be able to play from deeper. They know that they can cope with the Australian lineout, should Wallabies decide to go for the corner if they can’t slot the goals.
In summary – England will improve at a faster rate than Australia, continue to have the edge in the set-piece and shape the game because they can kick more goals.
Cup-of-tea hot and not smokin’ hot? Am I hedging my bets? Of course I am. But if the England players continue to believe they are the better team, as I said last week, they will win again.
This article was written by the lovely Dan Cottrell, editor of Rugby Coach Weekly, a resource of more than 2,000 ready-made drills, session plans, warm-ups and fitness plans as well as in-depth coaching and training manuals. He coaches representative age-grade rugby in Wales, and supports England (quietly).