Brian Smith: Beware a Wallabies side under no pressure and with low expectations

THE COACH'S VIEW: England vs Australia

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The Independent Online

There may not be anything more dangerous in the whole of rugby than a Wallaby side winding down their year with the equivalent of a free hit.

Australia visit Twickenham this afternoon with expectation levels lower than for some time – partly because of the narrow defeats in Paris and Dublin over the last fortnight; mainly as a result of the internal upheaval provoked by the Kurtley Beale text messaging scandal – and Michael Cheika, the new coach, is under far less pressure now than he will be when he returns here on World Cup business next September.

England’s problem is that Wallaby back divisions as gifted as this one – a unit of all the talents, blessed with the ability to score tries from every point of the compass – are never more lethal than when they approach a major Test match with a sense of freedom.

When I spent an evening with some of the tour party in London this week, the word I felt best summed up their mood was “ambition”.

They believe they know where England will attack them: they expect to be asked some serious questions at the set piece, and they anticipate an aerial bombardment from the home side’s back-line kickers. (At least, this is what Michael says he anticipates. It’s hardly unknown for Aussie coaches to play the misinformation card in an attempt to wrong-foot the opposition). They also reckon that anything approaching a 50-50 return on the gain line will give them the licence to have some fun with ball in hand.

I think we can safely disregard last week’s result against Ireland – and, for that matter, the one against the French. The Wallabies could and probably should have won both games: certainly, they created more than enough opportunities in Dublin to seal the deal. Once again, they made almost 200 passes, which was twice as many as the Irish. They won the line-break contest five to two, they were 13-8 ahead when it came to defenders beaten in open field.

The important thing is that they feel they are beginning to gel – that the new coaching team, hard taskmasters as they are, have been a breath of fresh air. In short, they’re in a good place.

What can we expect if they win themselves a decent supply of grade-A ball? Their approach has a number of names – “chaos attack”, “total rugby”, “universality” – but they all boil down to the same thing: the determination to attack above and beyond the confines of structure. The way they see it, structure slows you down. Provided the first man at the breakdown makes the right call on whether to clear out, run or pass, they’ll back themselves to go from there and see where it takes them.

It’s not new, exactly: Alan Jones, coach of the great 1984 Grand Slam side that featured Mark Ella, Michael Lynagh and David Campese, was thinking along similar lines way back when. But I’m beginning to see signs of this side doing it as well as anyone and I have to say that I’m really excited about what they might achieve over the coming months and years.

Especially as Michael already has them defending better than they were – the tries they conceded to a very good Irish side could not be put down to system errors – and will sure as hell make them more physical up front. They do not boast the most abrasive pack in the world right now, although their scrummaging would be a whole lot better if Stephen Moore was fit to play hooker, but I know enough about the Cheika style of coaching to guarantee that over time he’ll bring the maximum degree of toughness out of each of his forwards.

As far as England are concerned, I just hope they try to play some rugby, rather than opt for a close-quarter driving game underpinned by a torrent of kick-ball.

With George Ford calling the shots, there’s at least a possibility that they will seek to play with dynamism and adventure. To my mind, they should ease up on the idea that they have to take a southern hemisphere scalp whatever the cost and concentrate on building an attacking game worthy of the name.

Judging by the extraordinary clamour over Sam Burgess – who, let us not forget, is a rugby league player just embarking on his union education – the back-line pressures are beginning to weigh heavy on the England coaches.

How would I handle Burgess? I’d give him 20-minute runs off the bench at Premiership level and tell him to play like a Polynesian No 8: run over a few people, bump a few more in the tackle and don’t forget that, in this game, the ball has to be recycled.

In other words: give him time!

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