England v Australia, June 17 2006, Preview.

Australian Squad:

I must say I think Connolly’s forward picks are a little odd.   Start with the front row: clearly (I think) Paul is on the bench because he has booked his flight to the RWC, but then does that mean that Baxter is also booked?   I suspect it does.  

Now what about the ‘back five’?   It is great to run on with four line-out forwards, but then to have none on the bench?   In particular, the only second row reserve is actually on the pitch, so effectively you can’t sub any of the Sharpe, Vickerman or Chisholm until the very end because once you do, if another one of them is to go off injured you have to put Palu or Elsom into the second row, and you will have only two jumpers to boot.

I guess the answer is that in the long-term Connolly must be backing Heenan as a run-on forward and Chisholm as a sub.  

Not much change in the backs, notably not my resting of Latham!  I guess we will see the same substitutions as last week, although I would think that if we get a good lead Larkham would get a rest.  In which case I would expect Rogers to move to five-eighth and Staniforth to slot into inside centre.

English Squad:

Unsurprisingly, they have rung in the changes.  No impact from the pack around the field?  Bring on a new hooker (George Chuter), new second-row (experienced Ben Kay and less experienced Chris Jones) and a new flanker (Joe Worsley)!  That’s a much stronger pack imho first, it now has an all-Leicester front row plus Ben Kay and Moody, which should make for good communication, secondly it is heavier and thirdly it is more experienced, particularly in the second row.

As for the backs, they have replaced Olly Barkley at five-eighth with Andy Goode (again from Leicester, as is Varndell!), again a move to experience, and kept Catt but bought in equally lightweight Jamie Noon outside him whilst moving Tait out to replace the hapless Voyce.  They have stuck with Balshaw, and with Varndell, which is only sensible given that he is the only player in their back-line who looked like breaking the line.   Clearly, the game-plan is push the Wallaby line back a few steps and swing wide and deep to Varndell who can definitely beat his man.  The big flaw is that last week they didn’t achieve this within cooee of the tryline, and so Varndell had to beat the cover defence as well invariably, he disposed of the ball, and invariably he did so badly.   I think they had better bring Stuart Abbott on quick-smart because they need to break their line in the centres and then offload to Varndell or Balshaw, and I can’t see Catt or Noon doing that against Larkham and Rogers backed up by Smith, Elsom and Gregan (drift defence, remember?).

SO:

I think the English forwards will scrum slightly more strongly (aided by the conditions, I hope), be much stronger at the lineouts, and more organised around the field.  But I don’t think their backs will capitalise on this, and more importantly Australia will (hopefully) also be solider in the scrums with Freier and will certainly have more impact around the field with Freier and Palu and Chisholm all likely to run themselves dead.   Conversely to England, I think Australia’s backs will make three or four chances in the first half and take one or two of them, and from then on England will battle manfully to a fairly heavy defeat.   A particular danger is a buoyant and bench-reinforced Australia running away with it in the late stages, but if England don’t lose heart, keep at least parity in the forwards and and bring on Stuart Abbott they might actually close the gap.

 Fwiw, and it isn’t worth much, Australia 45 16 England and a cracking match.   If the ground has been ruined by AFL pansies, Australia 35 20 England and a less interesting match.   In my rugbyblogging predecessor’s honours, I nominate Freier, along  with Ben Kay and Gerrard,  to be a candidate for man of the match!

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