Brian Smith: Wallabies are watching Six Nations closely, hungry for Lions clues

Coach's View: England, growing in confidence by the game, are huge favourites

Leaving England aside – and I believe we can legitimately do so on this occasion, because they should walk it against Italy at Twickenham on Sunday – everyone is looking at everyone else as the Six Nations reaches its penultimate stage. Wales have a deep-rooted belief in their ability to rain on the English parade in Cardiff next weekend, but to feel really confident about their chances they need to find a way past Scotland this afternoon. As for Ireland and France, we're talking about two teams in a difficult place, weighed down by serious amounts of pressure.

We should be in no doubt as to the level of French angst after losing three on the spin: Thierry Dusautoir, their outstanding captain, told us all we needed to know when, earlier this week, he spoke of the "whatever it takes" mood among his players. But the Irish are also struggling, having gone down to England on home soil and then snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at Murrayfield. I know from speaking to their defence coach, Les Kiss, my friend and fellow Aussie, that the whole back-room staff are feeling the heat generated by the magnifying glass.

I understand how those blokes are suffering. Scotland had no right to win that game in Edinburgh in the last round: 99 times out of a hundred, they would have finished second. It reminded me a little of England's defeat by the Wallabies in Perth back in 2010: clearly superior in many departments for much of the game, we invented new ways of failing to make it count. Every now and again, rugby makes a real mug of you.

Having said all that, what interests me most about this weekend is how the current Wallabies coach, Robbie Deans, is looking at things on this side of the Equator. With the big series against the British and Irish Lions only three months away, he will be deep in planning mode, attempting to second-guess his opposite number, Warren Gatland. Not just in terms of selection, but in terms of tactics and strategy too.

On the selection front, I think we've seen one obvious bolter for a Lions Test place: the Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg. He looked like the find of the Six Nations from the moment he opened up England on the first day of the tournament and, as events have unfolded, he's been a sensation. I'll be very surprised indeed if he fails to get a shot against an Australian team boasting one or two spectacular broken-field runners of their own.

Tactically, things are a little more complex. I believe Deans will be concentrating on two weapons in the Lions armoury at the moment: set piece and defence. Graham Rowntree, the England forwards coach, will be in charge of preparing the Lions scrum, while Andy Farrell will be the defence specialist. Deans had a close-up look at both when the Wallabies played at Twickenham in November, and will know a lot more about their thinking by the end of this competition.

He must ask himself whether he has the prop forwards to stand up to one of Rowntree's set pieces, for he will know in his heart of hearts that the Lions front row will be stronger than the current England one. I'm guessing that as long as his best scrummagers, Benn Robinson and Ben Alexander, stay fit, Deans will look for something approaching parity in this department. (While we're on the subject of grunt-and-groan rugby, he will also be more confident of handling the Lions' driving play, now that the South African coach Jake White has upped performance levels in this area through his Super 15 work with the Canberra-based Brumbies).

Defensively speaking, Deans has already struck a couple of solid blows. Back in the autumn, he out-thought England by using a short kicking game against the Farrell system of mass suffocation, which, a little like Shaun Edwards' trademark operation across the border in Wales, depends heavily on fast line-speed and mega-physicality. By picking players who could put the ball behind their opponents and force them to contest the breakdown on the back foot, Deans struck gold.

More pertinently still, the 2012 Wallabies also outwitted the Welsh – and, by extension, Gatland, who had rejoined the national team for the second half of the autumn series. Try as he might, Warren can't buy himself a win over Australia, and it must be getting to him by now. It's not at all certain that the Lions will be red-hot favourites for a series victory by the time we reach the first Test in Brisbane.

This much is certain, though: England, growing in confidence by the game, are massive favourites. It's difficult to see how Italy can win. England are not running rings round opponents: their attacking game has been missing a beat just recently. But the security of their set-piece operation and their huge commitment in defence is such that they can afford to let some opportunities slip by, and against Italy, in particular, missed chances tend not to be fatal. The Azzurri are developing an attacking game of their own – they are nowhere near as one-dimensional as they were two or three seasons ago – but Farrell's operation will be too much for them at Twickenham. They simply do not have the artillery to blow enough holes in it.

Brian Smith is rugby director at London Irish and former England attack coach. His fee for this article has been donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital

Suggested Topics
Sport
Premier League Live
footballLIVE Follow all the Premier League action as it happens
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
peopleTV star had been reported missing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone