Young England must set World Cup marker with Australia win
Twickenham clash is a must-win for Stuart Lancaster if he wants to challenge in 2015
ENGLAND face Australia at Twickenham on Saturday in the first of their three November internationals. It's a match the English must win if they wish to be taken seriously as contenders for the 2015 World Cup.
They are up against one of the poorest Australian sides of recent times, a team that has won just three of its ten matches this year (one against the Lions and two against Argentina). Among the defeats have been some thrashings, notably the 41-16 mauling in the third Test against the Lions and their 38-12 thumping by South Africa in Brisbane.
Coach Robbie Deans was sacked after the series defeat by the Lions but his successor, Ewen McKenzie, has yet to turn things round. Not that McKenzie, a hard-nosed former prop who won the World Cup with the Wallabies in 1991, is to blame. The brutal truth is Australia are light on world-class talent right now, no longer able to call on geniuses such as David Campese, Tim Horan, John Eales and Matt Giteau.
They do have Quade Cooper, a fly-half lavished with skill, who has had his runs-in with authority in recent seasons, but in naming his XV for Saturday's clash McKenzie includes only seven players who started the third Test against the Lions in July.
England, too, have rung the changes from the last time they played a Test. That was in Argentina, a summer tour that allowed coach Stuart Lancaster to blood several young players while his more seasoned pros were Down Under with the Lions.
None is younger than 20-year-old No 8 Billy Vunipola, who'll make his first start on Saturday after winning two caps as a substitute against Argentina. He'll have his elder brother, Mako, for support in the scrum, the Saracens prop set to win his tenth cap. Mako Vunipola's club colleague, centre Joel Tompkins, is another player about to win his first international cap, an impressive achievement for the 26-year-old who two years ago was playing rugby league for Wigan Warriors.
Another new face for the Twickenham faithful is 21-year-old wing Marland Yarde, who celebrated his full debut in Argentina with a brace of tries in England's 51-26 victory over the Pumas. Yarde is fast and a finisher, a man who knows where the try line is and the best way to get there.
On the other wing is the experienced Chris Ashton, back to the form he showed three years ago when he scored one of the great Twickenham tries in England's resounding 35-18 win over the Wallabies.
That victory was arguably the high point of England under Martin Johnson. A year later they bombed in the World Cup and Johnson stood down as coach. Lancaster took charge and in the two years since England have made steady progress, finishing second in the last two Six Nations championships. There have been hiccups, however, defeat to Australia 12 months ago and then the 30-3 humiliation against Wales in last season's Six Nations.
With the World Cup preparation now underway, Lancaster knows the importance of not just the next month but also the Six Nations that follows next spring.
"It's a defining year because we're two years out from the World Cup and we have got consistency in the coaching team in in terms of selection," he said. "What you want is depth in every position and players fighting for the shirt. If you have 30 to 40 players doing that you will have a squad you can win a World Cup with."
England v Australia, Saturday November 2, 2.30pm Sky Sports 2
England team: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Chris Ashton (Saracens), Joel Tomkins (Saracens), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester), Marland Yarde (London Irish), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Lee Dickson (Northampton); Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Tom Youngs (Leicester), Dan Cole (Leicester), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Tom Wood (Northampton), Chris Robshaw (captain, Harlequins), Billy Vunipola (Saracens). ·