The more things change, the more Eddie Jones stays the same.
The more things change, the more Eddie Jones stays the same. Two years ago, Australia's super-smart coach countered accusations about the Wallabies' illegal dummy running by deflecting attention towards English skulduggery at the line-out. Yesterday, Jones treated his audience to another slippery piece of Phil Bennett-style footwork, side-stepping the principal controversy surrounding this week's Cook Cup match at Twickenham - the tourists' highly questionable tactics at the scrummage - by highlighting a catalogue of dodgy red rose habits instead.
"In any game of rugby, there are something in the region of 38 line-outs, 28 scrums and 150 tackle situations," he said. "While England seem to be focusing their attention on just one of these areas, we're hoping the referee" - Paul Honiss, the New Zealand official renowned for his dislike of power-scrummaging - "will be diligent in enforcing the laws in all areas. Getting people in front of the ball-carrier, cleaning out people wide of the ruck, having your ball-carrier shielded from defenders - you can't do any of those things." Clever. Very clever.
Jones invariably wins these little pre-match contests at a canter; over the three years he spent tangling with the former New South Wales hooker, Sir Clive Woodward celebrated many more victories on the pitch than on the verbal front. As Woodward's successor, Andy Robinson, has no interest in playing a game in which defeat is virtually guaranteed, he is giving the personality politics a wide berth. His only comment thus far - "I think Eddie's a good bloke" - may well be the most conciliatory ever to pass his lips.
There was not much in the way of conciliation in return. Jones admitted to being impressed by the scale of England's triumph over South Africa last weekend, but could not quite bring himself to glory in it. "The English team we put some points on in Brisbane last June was very much the remnant of the World Cup-winning side," he said. "Since then, they have put a new coach and captain in place, and have a slightly different philosophy - the Robinson philosophy. They're pretty confrontational. They try to win the game through their forwards, and then release their backs.
"Some people seem to be accusing us of shying away from the physical aspect of rugby, that our cleverness is a sign of us backing away from the confrontation. We're not shying away from anything. We'll take the physicality of the English, and we'll be as brutal with them as they'll try to be with us. This is the end of our season, just as England toured at the end of theirs in June, but we're not fatigued and we're not looking for excuses. Yes, we have some injuries, but injuries simply open up opportunities for other players."
Those injuries are far from good, whatever Jones might say on the subject. Stephen Larkham and Stirling Mortlock, contrasting figures in a world-class Wallaby midfield, were certain to miss the Twickenham date after suffering fractures during last weekend's victory over Scotland in Glasgow, but the failure of Clyde Rathbone, who put a hat-trick of tries past England in the summer, to recover from a groin injury amounts to a sharp toe-poke in the tender parts.
Wendell Sailor, the former rugby league international, plays in Rathbone's stead, while Elton Flatley replaces Larkham at outside-half. The one mild surprise concerns the inclusion of Morgan Turinui, who has beaten the more celebrated Mat Rogers to the vacancy at outside centre. Turinui is fresh back from a trek to Argentina with New South Wales, during which the team bus broke down in the middle of the Andes and the players found themselves surrounded by rattlesnakes. Maybe he has put on a yard of pace as a result.
If Jason Robinson, the England captain, expected to see Rogers in the starting line-up, he was no mood to belittle Turinui. "Australia are a quality team, irrespective of who pulls on the shirt," he said yesterday, a week after refusing to say anything at all after an outbreak of media interest in some dim and distant corner of his past love life. "When players drop out through injury, they always bring in replacements of an exceptional standard. They'll test us in more areas than the Springboks managed last week, definitely."
Robinson missed the 50-point humiliation in Brisbane - "There was no feeling of guilt because I made a decision not to travel based on how I was feeling at the time," he explained - but fully appreciates the so-called "payback" element of this weekend's fixture. "The people who played in June must be hurting more than those who weren't there, myself included," he admitted. "But we're all in the situation of wanting to put things right."
(v England, Twickenham, Saturday): C Latham (Queensland); W Sailor (Queensland), M Turinui (NSW), M Giteau (ACT), L Tuqiri (NSW); E Flatley (Queensland), G Gregan (ACT, capt); B Young (ACT), J Paul (ACT), A Baxter (NSW), J Harrison (NSW), D Vickerman (NSW), G Smith (ACT), P Waugh (NSW), D Lyons (NSW).
Replacements: B Cannon (NSW), M Dunning (NSW), R Samo (ACT), S Hoiles (NSW), M Henjak (ACT), D Mitchell (Queensland), M Rogers (NSW).Reuse content