Wound-up Robinson feels Australian heat

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The Independent Online

There is something about the Australian sporting breed that leaves the average Englishman prey to a deep-rooted nervous condition that would have kept Sigmund Freud entertained for years - a kind of Oedipus complex in reverse, unique to the mother country. Seven days after obliterating South Africa, the reigning southern hemisphere champions, Andy Robinson and his red rose army are so wound up about facing a Wallaby side shorn of 50 per cent of their first-choice back division that they are in danger of allowing their obsessions to get the better of them.

There is something about the Australian sporting breed that leaves the average Englishman prey to a deep-rooted nervous condition that would have kept Sigmund Freud entertained for years - a kind of Oedipus complex in reverse, unique to the mother country. Seven days after obliterating South Africa, the reigning southern hemisphere champions, Andy Robinson and his red rose army are so wound up about facing a Wallaby side shorn of 50 per cent of their first-choice back division that they are in danger of allowing their obsessions to get the better of them.

England lost their marbles, both in the front row and in terms of game management, during last year's World Cup final in Sydney, and very nearly allowed a wholly inferior Australian side to half-inch the Webb Ellis Trophy from under their flaring nostrils. Five months ago, they were turned to ice by Stephen Larkham, Joe Roff and Clyde Rathbone, and leaked 50 points while standing around like so many igloos. And now? No Larkham, no Roff and no Rathbone. Yet Robinson quietly admitted to being "edgy" yesterday - a clear sign that the head coach was feeling this week's heat a whole lot more than last week's.

The world champions are wary of the Wallaby runners - Lote Tuqiri in particular - and of Elton Flatley's goal-kicking. They are even more cranky about the ability of the Australian flankers George Smith and Phil Waugh, to interfere with English possession at the breakdown; and are positively off the scale when it comes to the visiting scrummagers. When Robinson met with the referee, Paul Honiss, to discuss a few ground rules for this afternoon's contest, he armed himself with a DVD of the tourists' antics. Enough said.

"Actually, I think these meetings with the referee should involve both coaches simultaneously, rather than one at a time," Robinson pointed out. "I would have no problem making my points in front of Eddie Jones. I have nothing to hide." Crikey. Don King could sell tickets for such an event.

Wallaby insiders believe Jones picked Morgan Turinui ahead of the more celebrated Mat Rogers at outside centre to counter the physical threat posed by Mike Tindall. If so, the coach may be tempted into a late switch if Tindall fails to recover from the stomach bug contracted on Wednesday which prevented him training yesterday. Will Greenwood, of Harlequins, is on standby to start, with Jamie Noon of Newcastle eyeing a place on the bench. Happily for England, the fitness problems for Andrew Sheridan have eased, and the loose-head specialist from Sale will take his place on the touchline.

Sheridan is precisely the kind of "impact player" who could turn a tight game in the final quarter. There again, this is no place for a novice scrummager. If Honiss gives the home side an even break, Graham Rowntree and Julian White have the weaponry to establish authority. However, Honiss is perfectly capable of taking a dislike to Rowntree and White, as he did to Trevor Woodman and Phil Vickery while running the line during the World Cup final. Under those circumstances, Robinson would face the trickiest tactical decision of his International coaching career.

"We did get it wrong in the World Cup final," he admitted yesterday. "We lost it at the scrum for about 20 minutes. But you learn your lessons. The Wallabies pose a different challenge at the set-piece, just as Smith and Waugh represent a different challenge to that posed by the bigger Springbok loose forwards last week."

South Africa arrived at Twickenham intending to rock the place to its foundations with their route-one approach. As it turned out, they found themselves on the highway to nowhere inside 20 minutes. The Wallabies will go about their work with more subtlety, more sophistication and more confidence. "You never feel you've broken an Australian side," admitted Rowntree this week. "No matter how superior you think you may be, you never get to the point where you think: 'We've got the buggers here.'"

As usual, the craggy old prop from Leicester was bang on the money. This final match of the autumn series is likely to give the 75,000 crowd a full 80 minutes-worth of rugby for their hard-earned cash. England should just scrape it. An eight-point margin sounds about right.

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