Eight of the 30-man squad training at Loughborough University - the Wasps wing Tom Voyce, the Leicester midfielders Ollie Smith and Andy Goode, the Gloucester scrum-half Peter Richards and his back-row colleagues Andy Hazell and James Forrester, the Perpignan prop Perry Freshwater and the injured Wasps lock Simon Shaw - were omitted from the equation yesterday and returned to their clubs. That left a match-day XXII including two uncapped players, the full-back Mark van Gisbergen and the hooker Lee Mears, and a range of positional possibilities.
Robinson hinted that he might start the game with only one specialist goal-kicker on the field, and if that turns out to be the case it will be bad news for Van Gisbergen, given that Charlie Hodgson of Sale is a cast-iron certainty at outside-half. This time last month, when the New Zealander completed his residency qualification in England and was channelled directly into the England squad without passing "Go", he was everyone's pick for the No 15 shirt. Three rough games later, Van Gisbergen's chances of making the élite XV are so far up in the air it would be difficult to see them with a telescope.
Certainly, Robinson is tempted to switch the ever-dependable Josh Lewsey to full-back and recall Cohen to the left wing. "I had great reports of Ben's performance in training over the summer and I've been looking at video footage of his recent matches," the coach said.
Should Cohen make the cut, he will renew his alliance with the likes of Dawson, hot favourite to start at scrum-half after a spell as back-up to Harry Ellis at Leicester, and Tindall, whose injury problems ruled him out of both last season's Six Nations Championship and the subsequent Lions tour of New Zealand. "We missed Mike in the Six Nations," Robinson confessed. "He's a very influential figure. I've had a lot to do with him over the last seven years. I know he'll deliver for England."
Tindall is still being considered as an inside centre, having spent 99 per cent of his time in the professional game performing the outside role. Assuming Robinson resists the temptation to play Olly Barkley of Bath from the outset and sticks with his initial plan of pairing Tindall with Jamie Noon of Newcastle - very much flavour of the month with the coach - the likely back-line will feature four of the unit that played at the business end of the World Cup campaign. It would be quite a contrast to the final stages of the last Six Nations, when Lewsey was the sole survivor.
Just for once, Robinson was more than happy with his preparation for a major international, having been granted the luxury of working with his players for a whole week prior to the usual build-up period. "I'm absolutely sure we have this right," he said, "especially as the match squad won't be playing this weekend. There will be no more weekend calls from the doctor, telling me who won't be fit. We're talking about operating at the highest level of performance here, the equivalent of the Olympics. The players need to be at their peak, not recovering from back-to-back club games."
Australia, meanwhile, play France in Marseilles this weekend - a match in which George Gregan, the Wallaby captain, will win his 115th cap and become the most decorated player in union history. By moving ahead of the venerable England prop Jason Leonard, the 32-year-old half-back, born in Zambia, will take his rightful place among the greats of the game.
England squad (v Australia, Twickenham, 12 November)
Backs: O Barkley (Bath), B Cohen (Northampton), M Cueto (Sale), M Dawson (Wasps), H Ellis (Leicester), C Hodgson (Sale), J Lewsey (Wasps), J Noon (Newcastle), M Tindall (Gloucester), M Van Gisbergen (Wasps). Forwards: S Borthwick (Bath), M Corry (Leicester, capt), L Deacon (Leicester), D Grewcock (Bath), C Jones (Sale), L Mears (Bath), L Moody (Leicester), P Sanderson (Worcester), A Sheridan (Sale), M Stevens (Bath), S Thompson (Northampton), P Vickery (Gloucester).
Australia (v France, Marseilles, tomorrow): C Latham; W Sailor, L Tuqiri, M Turinui, M Rogers; M Giteau, G Gregan (captain); G Smith, P Waugh, R Elsom, N Sharpe, M Chisholm, A Baxter, B Cannon, M Dunning. Replacements: S Moore, G Holmes, H McMeniman, J Roe, C Whitaker, L Johannson, D Mitchell.
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