England v Australia: why the pundits believe England will win
Owen Farrell and the pack will be critical as experts back the hosts to win their vital Rugby World Cup clash with Australia
The countdown to England's defining World Cup clash with Australia is on and the pundits have been making their predictions about the outcome.
The equation for England is a simple one. If they lose they are out of their own tournament, if they win then only a freak result will keep them out of the quarter finals.
In the build up to last week's clash with Wales the focus was on the centre partnership of Sam Burgess and Brad Barritt. This time the debate rages around the forward pack.
So where will the game be won and lost, and who will emerge triumphant?
The England pack destroyed Australia a year ago and much rests on a repeat performance at Twickenham. Claims that the Wallabies had overcome their problems in that area are "phoney" says Stuart Barnes in The Times, as they have not been properly tested. "The true test of the Australian scrum has arrived," he says.
Jeremy Guscott of the BBC agrees. "I do not believe their scrum and line-out are as strong as England's and overall, man for man, England shade it for me," he says.
Australia may be lacking when it comes to set pieces, but at the breakdown they will be a different proposition. The skills of Michael Hooper and David Pocock in stealing the ball will make it "tough" for England says Women's World Cup winner Sue Day in the Daily Telegraph.
"They will exploit any opportunity to steal ball and, at worst, will slow down England's recycling and force them to commit extra men to rucks," explains Jeremy Guscott of the BBC.
England number eight Ben Morgan has a big job on his hands, says Eddie Butler in The Guardian. "Somebody has to prevent Michael Hooper and David Pocock (and Scott Fardy) from dictating where they may roam. Morgan must commit all three of the opposition back-row to bringing him down," he says.
Never mind the centres, it's England's wingers and full-back who will be key to this one. "England's biggest weapon is a back three who can really attack," says former England coach, Clive Woodward, in the Daily Mail.
But Japan coach Eddie Jones, whose Australian side was beaten by Woodward's England in the 2003 final, warns that England won't have it all their own way. "England's back three gives them something different: they've got pace and size, and the ability to find the try-line," he tells the Mail. "Their weakness is if Australia play an up-tempo, ball-in-hand game, they will struggle to compete... Australia's strength is their ability to use the ball in unstructured situations. If they get some quick ball, they can move it and test the England defence, especially out wide."
Owen Farrell was brilliant with the boot against Wales, and he could be key on Saturday. "Big World Cup contests are often decided by goal-kicking," former Wales and New Zealand coach Graham Henry tells the Guardian. And he notes that Farrell is "a freakishly accurate goal-kicker".
In contrast, "the Wallabies have several kicking options, none of them world class," says Stuart Barnes of the Times, who adds that Farrell can use his boot to pin the dangerous Israel Folau back in his own half.
This will be key. "If England, on the brink of elimination, are not driven on by the sense of prevailing panic, this group of players should not be representing their country," says Barnes. They must "want it more" than they did against Wales.
Defeat by Wales "could galvanise or inhibit England but I think Lancaster's men will squeak home," says Tom Cary of the Telegraph. "There is a better balance to their starting XV (and squad) and the Twickenham factor is also hugely important."
Meanwhile, Australia "have yet to experience the full heat of battle against a top team at the World Cup," Clive Woodward tells the Daily Mail.
Who will win?
The consensus in the British media is that England will win, narrowly. One notable exception is Australian Michael Lynagh. "I'm picking Australia by eight points purely because I find it astonishing that England still do not know their best starting XV," he tells the Telegraph.
England v Australia: Joseph back, but can Robshaw cut it?
England coach Stuart Lancaster delayed naming the England team to take on Australia until all the players had emerged unscathed from a training session on Thursday morning.
But after keeping the media waiting for more than two hours he eventually confirmed that centre Jonathan Joseph would return to the team at outside centre and that Owen Farrell would keep his place at fly-half with Sam Burgess joining George Ford on the bench. Brad Barritt will return to his preferred position of inside centre.
In the forwards, Ben Morgan replaces Billy Vunipola at number eight and second row Joe Launchbury comes in for Courtney Lawes.
The delay in naming the side was not down to "any specific fitness concerns", notes the Daily Telegraph, but both Joseph and scrum-half Ben Youngs were thought to be touch and go.
Youngs was the "last man declared fit and ready" says The Times. And having him and Joseph in the team is "a major fillip" for England.
In the end both players passed muster and the XV has the approval of Telegraph rugby correspondent Mick Cleary. "This is a team that has a chance to put themselves back on the World Cup map. And to revive the hopes of a nation," he says.
While much of the pre-match attention has been on midfield, just as it was before the match against Wales, many believe that the back row of the scrum will be key to the Australia clash, and that ups the pressure on England skipper Chris Robshaw, who is already under fire for his role in the defeat to Wales.
In Michael Hooper and David Pocock, Australia have two of the best flankers in the world, says Eddie Jones of the Daily Mail, and "England simply don’t have the specialist skills to compete with them".
Robshaw plays at seven for England but does "not have the specialist skills and the instinct as an openside that Pocock has", he argues. "Australia... are expected to dominate the ruck contest and I can’t see it going any other way... Ben Morgan and Tom Wood don't play over the ball, and Robshaw only half does it, so it looks like an uphill battle for England."
England vs Australia: Burgess out as Joseph returns
Sam Burgess dominated the build-up to England's defeat by Wales in the Rugby World Cup, but he emerged from the game with some credit, having performed admirably in England's midfield. However, the rugby league convert is now set to be jettisoned by coach Stuart Lancaster ahead of the huge clash with Australia on Saturday, which will determine England's future in the tournament.
Jonathan Joseph, who missed the Wales match, is expected to return to the team at outside centre alongside Brad Barritt, whose contribution at Twickenham on Saturday left most observers underwhelmed.
Owen Farrell, who was the other high-profile call-up for the Wales game, is expected to keep his place in the side, meaning that England will field their third different midfield in as many games.
Changes are also expected in the pack, with Billy Vunipola out of the tournament and Courtney Lawes still struggling with a knee injury. That means Ben Morgan will return at number eight and Joe Launchbury will start his first World Cup match in the second-row.
However, it is the three-quarters that are hogging the limelight.
"That England are prepared to select another untried midfield combination in a match of such importance will be seen as another risk by Lancaster, although Farrell and Barritt can draw on their club experience at Saracens," says the Daily Telegraph, which notes that the combination of Farrell, Barritt and Joseph will be the 18th permutation of Lancaster’s three-and-a-half year reign as England coach.
If it does not pay off it could also be one of his last, as defeat would leave England all but out of the tournament and Lancaster's head on the block.
Burgess may have been a controversial choice on Saturday but he won some plaudits after the Wales game, and Wales's try came a minute after he was taken off, so his demotion may come as a surprise. "Burgess had shown considerable discipline, only once being pulled out of position defending a ball to the front of the Welsh lineout," wrote Dean Ryan of The Guardian after the match. "If either centre wasn’t contributing, it was probably Brad Barritt."
But others were not so sure, and former Ireland winger Gordon D'Arcy heaped yet more criticism on Lancaster ahead of the Australia showdown. He called Burgess "naive" in his column for the Irish Times and said the selection could cost England dear. "Lancaster picked a league convert who doesn’t know how to play inside centre for the biggest match England have played since the 2007 World Cup final."
He is not alone in attacking England and Lancaster. World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward described England as "amateurs" after the Wales match and former captain Will Carling accused the coach, a former PE teacher, of treating players like "schoolboys".
The camp is trying to ignore the clamour ahead of the Australia clash, reports the Guardian. "Amid growing signs that England are adopting a bunker mentality in the face of unprecedented pressure at their home World Cup Mike Catt, the attacking skills coach, insisted they would not let external criticism derail them," reports the Guardian.
Rugby World Cup: are worried England spying on Australia?
They may have taken their eye off on the ball in losing to Wales, but England have allegedly been keeping Australia under close observation ahead of Saturday's crucial pool A encounter.
According to the Daily Telegraph England have been forced to deny spying on the the Aussies "after a photographer was caught with a long lens overlooking their training camp". The paper says that an unidentified man "was found lurking in bushes watching the Wallabies' closed training session" at Bath University.
Bird watchers aren't unknown in the area but it's believed this twitcher was more interested in Australians than ornithology because he had positioned himself in such a position he was able to peer over hessian-covered fences surrounding the pitch. When the spy was spotted by security guards he fled, taking with him what was said to be a "powerful, hi-tech photographic gear on a tripod".
Adam Freier, Australia's media manager, joined in the chase but the photographer, showing more pace than most of the English backline managed against Wales, evaded capture. Tournament organisers and the England camp have declined to make an official comment and Australian coach Michael Cheika laughed off the incident on Monday evening: "I heard about it and we've got to have a bit of a laugh," he told reporters. "We don't even know what we're doing so how is anyone watching us going to know what we're doing."
Accusations of espionage are the least of Stuart Lancaster's concerns after a Monday that began badly and got worse the longer it wore on. Former England captain Will Carling launched a scathing attack on the England coach, telling BBC Sport that Lancaster has treated his players like "schoolboys". Carling, who captained England to the 1991 World Cup Final, added that life in the England camp is "a very classroom-orientated environment" and as a result players are unable to display much initiative out on the pitch.
Lancaster's day got worse when it was revealed that Billy Vunipola, one of the few England players to have done himself justice in the first two matches, will miss the rest of the tournament. The 22-year-old No8 has strained his knee ligaments and has been replaced in the squad by Nick Easter, 15 years Vunipola's senior and not a player with the athletic dynamism to worry Australia.
"It's so unfortunate for Billy," said Lancaster. "He's committed everything to the last three months but he is a young man with a bright future ahead of him and I know he'll be an integral part of this team for years to come."
Whether Lancaster will be part of the England squad for years to come depends on the outcome of Saturday's clash with Australia. Carling clearly believes captain Chris Robshaw is unfairly copping most of the flak when it fact it should be his coach in the firing line. "I got the sense that England were panicking. I don’t blame Chris as much as I blame others. I blame the environment."