No rugby player wins 100-plus caps for his country without knowing a thing or two about this rough old game, so George Smith's return to the Wallaby back row for tomorrow's sell-out meeting with England at Twickenham gives Martin Johnson and company something to ponder. The rugged little flanker from the ACT Brumbies is one of eight survivors from the side that started the resounding victory in London a year ago – Australia's biggest in the capital in almost a quarter of a century – and in his department at least, the tourists look stronger this time around. Oh dear.
Smith will win his 107th cap after being selected ahead of the highly-regarded David Pocock, who went toe to toe with Richie McCaw and his All Blacks in Tokyo last weekend. Robbie Deans, the Wallaby coach, has made five changes, two of them positional, as a result of the 32-19 defeat by their fellow Antipodeans, and one result of his tinkerings is a new, wholly unfamiliar centre combination of Digby Ioane and Quade Cooper, one of whom sounds like a cartoon character and the other a gun-slinger straight out of Dodge City. All things considered, though, Deans' side carries plenty of threat.
Not that the coach is counting his poultry ahead of the first obstacle confronting Australia as they attempt to emulate the grand slam-winning feat of the sublime 1984 vintage, which toured here under Andrew Slack and featured one of the great back divisions in rugby history. "This will be the toughest game," he said, to the surprise of those who see the forthcoming visits to Dublin and Cardiff as more obvious pratfalls in waiting. "Against England at Twickenham you have to earn everything you get. That's the way it is."
Deans has spent much of the week talking about Jonny Wilkinson and he was at it again yesterday. "His return makes this game distinct from the contest we had here last year," he said, referring to the 28-14 win that set Johnson's team on a vertical slide down the cliff face and left them face down in the rubble at the end of a desperate autumn series. "He can be influential, so we want to minimise that as best we can. A big part of that will come from the foundation we lay up front."
Two of the front-rowers who hurt England a year ago, the loose-head prop Benn Robinson and the hooker Stephen Moore, are back for another go, joined by the new tight-head operator, Ben Alexander. Mark Chisholm, who also played in the 2008 Test, will start in the second row alongside James Horwill, while Smith's return means the Wallabies are at full strength in the loose-forward department, where the new captain Rocky Elsom continues on the blind-side flank.
Some reports suggested that Deans' decision to take the captaincy away from the much-admired Stirling Mortlock, currently injured, led to a split in the Wallaby camp, but the coach was full of praise for Elsom yesterday. "Rocky is a strong man with a strong mind, a good bloke to have alongside you," he said. "He doesn't like to give ground and has the ability to inspire until the end. His team-mates feed off that. The captaincy is a new experience for him but he's taken to it pretty well. He hasn't tried to be something he's not, but kept doing what he does."
Australia team to face England at Twickenham tomorrow (kick-off 2.30pm) A Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies); P Hynes (Queensland Reds), D Ioane (Q' Reds), Q Cooper (Q' Reds), D Mitchell (NSW W'); M Giteau (Brumbies), W Genia (Q' Reds); B Robinson (NSW W'), S Moore (Brumbies), B Alexander (Brumbies), J Horwill (Q' Reds), M Chisholm (Brumbies), R Elsom (Brumbies, capt), G Smith (Brumbies), W Palu (NSW W').
Replacements: T Polota-Nau (NSW W'), M Dunning (Western Force), D Mumm (NSW W'), D Pocock (Western Force), L Burgess (NSW W'), R Cross (Western Force), J O'Connor (Western Force).Reuse content