The day England bamboozle the Wallabies on the field the way they have just befuddled them in selection, they will stand a decent chance of revisiting the World Cup-winning glories of 2003. Urgently in need of victory in tomorrow's second and final Test on the very patch of grass that yielded them the finest moment in their history, the tourists have shunned the blindingly obvious by leaving Jonny Wilkinson, the man who dropped the goal that won the trophy, on the bench. Radical? Adventurous? Possibly. Crazy? There is barely an Australian in the country who does not think so.
It is not the business of Martin Johnson, the England manager, to do the things the Wallaby nation expects him to do. Under normal circumstances, his business is quite the opposite. But these are not normal circumstances. Johnson's record of eight wins from 22 Tests, none of them against serious southern hemisphere opposition, is far short of satisfactory and another defeat here would weaken him badly.
Yet England, blessed with such set-piece superiority over a second-string Australian front row that they seem certain to scrummage their way to half-a-dozen kickable penalties at least, have decided against promoting the best kicker of them all to the starting line-up. Toby Flood is accurate enough from 40 metres in, but Wilkinson is deadly from anything up to 50 and seriously dangerous from 55. At least one member of the coaching team wanted to see he and Flood paired together in midfield.
Had England rejected Wilkinson because Olly Barkley was busily making a go of it at inside-centre, the decision would have been understandable, on the grounds that the highly-skilled Bath midfielder has a brilliant kicking game. But the man starting at No 12, Shontayne Hape, has no kicking game at all. Why not turn to a proven match-winner? "There's always a rationale for playing Jonny Wilkinson," Johnson said, "but we're comfortable with what we have."
As expected, the 21-year-old Northampton lock Courtney Lawes will make his first Test start ahead of Simon Shaw, though a Shaw-Lawes combination might have been a better fit, given that the newcomer is more obviously suited to the role played by Tom Palmer, whom he partners tomorrow. But with the Gloucester second-rower Dave Attwood making such mighty strides on this trip, engine room options are the least of England's problems going forward.
Ben Youngs, the Leicester scrum-half, is the other change – no great surprise, in light of Danny Care's disappointing effort in Perth six days ago. "It's happened so quickly," the 20-year-old said. "Back in the autumn, I wouldn't have considered myself ready. I do now, I think."
Youngs will learn rapidly when he faces the sensational Wallaby half-back Will Genia, whose recovery from injury means Luke Burgess, such a strong contributor to the Australians' victory in Perth, is on the bench. Matt Giteau is also back, having withdrawn from last week's game with a hip problem.
England have called up the uncapped Saracens centre Brad Barritt because of injury and suspension issues surrounding Dominic Waldouck and Matt Banahan.
To play Australia in the Second Test in Sydney tomorrow:
B Foden (Northampton); M Cueto (Sale Sharks), M Tindall (Gloucester), S Hape (Bath), C Ashton (Northampton); T Flood (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester); T Payne (Wasps), S Thompson (Brive), D Cole (Leicester), C Lawes (Northampton), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Croft (Leicester), L Moody (Leicester, capt), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements G Chuter (Leicester), D Wilson (Bath), S Shaw (Wasps), J Haskell (Stade Francais), D Care (Harlequins), J Wilkinson (Toulon), D Armitage (London Irish).TV Sky Sports 1, HD1 11am