The build-up to the 31st meeting between England and Australia, diametrically opposed in all rugby matters and not terribly compatible in any other sporting field, is brewing rather nicely, despite the absence of Sir Clive Woodward and his incendiary approach to cross-hemisphere diplomacy.
The build-up to the 31st meeting between England and Australia, diametrically opposed in all rugby matters and not terribly compatible in any other sporting field, is brewing rather nicely, despite the absence of Sir Clive Woodward and his incendiary approach to cross-hemisphere diplomacy. The good knight's successor as coach of the red rose army, Andy Robinson, and his principal lieutenant, Phil Larder, did not indulge in any Woodward-style Wallaby baiting in confirming their line-up for this weekend's Test at Twickenham, but they were unusually blunt all the same.
Robinson dipped his toe - or rather, his entire leg - into the murky waters surrounding the scrummage, such an explosive issue during the World Cup final in Sydney a year ago and the most talked-about aspect of this coming contest. "The scrum gives rugby union its uniqueness, and we want a real contest in that area," he said, aiming his words both at the Wallabies, who rely on trickery to conceal their weakness in this area, and at Paul Honiss, the referee from New Zealand, who tends to view the set-piece in the way a League Against Cruel Sports activist views the corrida. "We'll be scrummaging to the letter of the law, as we always try to do. The one thing we want in this match is a proper scrum."
Larder, meanwhile, bared his soul as seldom before in discussing the more legitimate threat posed by the Australian back division - "the most exciting combination in world rugby," in the considered opinion of the defence coach.
"When the Wallabies beat us in Brisbane last June, it was probably the most humiliating experience I'd had as a coach," Larder admitted. "Most of the England players who were there that night will tell you the same thing. They destroyed us then, and I see this as payback time, an opportunity to regain our self-respect. This is a massive game for us, far bigger than last week's against the Springboks. In terms of attacking style, the two sides are poles apart. The Wallabies ask tremendous questions of any team."
If the tourists are in make-do-and-mend mode after losing two of their first-choice midfielders, the powerhouse centre Stirling Mortlock and the visionary outside-half Stephen Larkham, to fractures suffered during the victory over Scotland in Glasgow four days ago, they will still field a back-line to die for. Larder described Lote Tuqiri as "the form wing in the world" and Matt Giteau, the brilliant young inside-centre, as "a player on fire". Throw in the likes of Chris Latham, Mat Rogers and George Gregan, and the danger to England is there for all to see.
Yet the world champions are confident of squeezing the life from the Wallabies, provided Honiss does not prevent them going about their lawful business in the grunt-and-groan department. Robinson named a side unchanged from the one that hammered the Boks into the Twickenham mud last weekend - it must have taken him all of three seconds to reach this selection conclusion, although he insisted the debate lasted a good deal longer - and will demand the same physicality from his players. Only Andrew Sheridan, the replacement prop from Sale, has a fitness problem, having hurt a leg during a weights session on Sunday.
"This will be an 80-minute plus game," Robinson said. "Ease off against any Australian sports side, and you'll be nailed. It's in their culture." Yes, but do they employ illegal tactics at scrum-time? "They employ different tactics," the coach replied. This issue has a long way to run before Saturday.Reuse content