Peculiar as it may seem, the Australians are being nice about their red-rose opponents ahead of tomorrow's Cook Cup Test. Or to be more precise, the New Zealander in charge of the Australians is being nice. "There aren't too many challenges greater than playing them at Twickenham and this England team has been building itself up under new leadership and will see the game as a chance to lay down a marker for the future," said the Wallaby coach, Robbie Deans, in naming a side showing four changes from the one that disappeared without trace in Paris six days ago.
It will never catch on, this kind of thing. Certainly, the England coach, Stuart Lancaster, showed no sign of falling for the Wallabies-in-woe argument as he cast an eye over the tourists' line-up. "They will threaten all over the field," he commented, "and we're expecting a full-on match. The players understand that. As a coach, you look for the little tell-tale signs of over-confidence or complacency. When I look at the players now, I see none of those things. I see focus, determination and intensity."
The Wallabies are in a strange place just at the moment. If their home defeat by Scotland last June was a bitter blow to their self-esteem, the shellacking they suffered at the hands of the French was more ruinous again. Yet it is not so very long since they held the All Blacks to a draw in Brisbane and with players as intelligent as Berrick Barnes and Digby Ioane restored to the back division and Ben Alexander recalled at tight-head prop – the ACT Brumbies forward is no one's idea of a pushover - they look significantly stronger this week than they did last. The word on the street around the team hotel in Kensington is that they are full of steely resolve.
Nine of this weekend's Wallabies would claim a place in a full-strength Australian side. Those missing – the lock James Horwill, the flankers Scott Higginbotham and David Pocock, the scrum-half Will Genia, the outside-half Quade Cooper and the wing James O'Connor – are all quality acts, and some of them are among the world's best. But even when the men in green and gold find themselves on the wrong end of a severe pasting from an England pack, they rarely lose heavily. With that thought in the back of his mind, Deans could afford to be nice.