Australia content to put faith in youth

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The Independent Online

England, quietly and privately, feel Australia have missed a trick or two on the selection front for the final. They certainly expected Eddie Jones, the Australia coach, to call in an experienced international tight-head prop - either Glenn Panoho or, more likely, Patricio Noriega - to sit on the bench after Ben Darwin's hospitalisation during the semi-final victory over New Zealand last Saturday.

They also believed Jones would promote David Giffin, the longest-serving lock available to the champions and a potent force at the line-out, to the starting XV ahead of Nathan Sharpe.

Neither has happened. Giffin remains among the substitutes - a high-risk strategy by Jones, given the pressure it places on the ball-winning capacities of Justin Harrison and David Lyons - and there has been no move to fill the gap created by Darwin's misfortune. The prop decision is the more baffling of the two. Al Baxter, uncapped before this tournament and no great shakes during it, will start the final at tight-head, with Matt Dunning, even less experienced and generally considered to be a specialist loose-head, as back-up. The England coaches could scarcely believe their ears.

"We have a young pack and they have no fear, because there is nothing for them to be frightened about," said Jones, with a show of bravado wholly consistent with his usual pre-Test demeanour. "All they have to do is go out there and play as well and as aggressively as they can. If they're good enough, they'll get on top of England."

That reference to youth led some observers to wonder if Jones might be covering old ground and hinting at whether the "Dad's Army" element in the red rose pack - the Martin Johnsons and Neil Backs - could last the pace of a fast, fluent match. As ever, he hinted cleverly. "Fitness is going to be absolutely essential. You can still perform well in your mid-30s - I don't think it's an age thing, so much as a fitness thing. And we'll certainly back ourselves on fitness."

If Johnson and Back are exposed by younger, faster opponents with fatal consequences for England's dream of a first world title, both men will bend the knee and accept the rule of Anno Domini. If, however, they outlast the likes of Harrison and Phil Waugh and bring these Wallabies to heel, they will tell Eddie Jones exactly where he can put his words of wisdom.

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