England take aim at youthful Wallabies
June 10, 2010
Toby Flood has been largely overlooked in the build-up to the first Test © Getty Images
England's summer tour reaches the sharp end on Saturday as Martin Johnson's men take on Australia in the first Test at the Subiaco Oval in Perth.
It may verge on being a cliché, but the fact remains that there are no friendly matches played between England and Australia. Each contest is accompanied by waves of hype as the countries' respective media grind into gear, trapping the competing sides in a game that swiftly becomes symbolic of past glories and heartache.
This time around the focus has been on the return of Jonny Wilkinson to Australia for the first time since a swing of his boot brought the Webb Ellis trophy to England in 2003. The headlines screamed revenge, but Jonny will make his mark only from the bench on Saturday as his team-mates look for their first win on Australian soil since that famous evening.
England have moved on since 2003 and while their trajectory has very much been a downward curve, Australia would do well to focus on what will be in front of them on Saturday rather than what is lurking on the bench. "It is a long time ago for us. You all probably need to get over it," Johnson said with a smile when asked again of Wilkinson's demotion.
Toby Flood offers a slightly more open game to that of Wilkinson but he will doubtless have been instructed by Johnson to target the set-piece, where the Wallabies will be hoping for their front-row to get acquainted with the rigours of Test rugby in double-quick time.
Robbie Deans' admirable faith in youth will be tested to its logical extreme this weekend when Salesi Ma'afu, Saia Faingaa and Ben Daley, with a total of two caps between them, pack down for the first scrum. This is an Australian side full of the joys of spring, brimming with pace, power and a smattering of youthful exuberance, but that will matter for naught if England dominate the arm-wrestle up front.
Opposing Flood is Quade Cooper, the Queensland Reds fly-half who diametrically opposes the steadying hand offered by the Leicester pivot and Wilkinson. A flashy, cocksure player, Cooper has the goods to unlock England at will if he can secure enough usable ball from the pack and the sometimes flighty delivery of scrum-half Luke Burgess. Matt Giteau was again in line to star in the No.12 jersey as Deans elected to go with form over previous achievements, but the Brumbies start is out with a hip injury, leading Berrick Barnes to be promoted from the bench.
Giteau must contain England's debutant, former New Zealand rugby league international Shontayne Hape. The Bath midfielder will be looking for any half gaps available, and with Mike Tindall outside him there will be some hard graft in defence for both Barnes and Waratahs youngster Rob Horne, who starts only his second Test after making his bow in last weekend's victory over Fiji.
Hape is in the side ahead of club team-mate Olly Barkley, tipped by many as a dead cert for a Test recall after a sparkling few months towards the end of the Premiership season. The goal-kicking centre broke from the pack earlier this week to show his disappointment at being unable to influence England's pre-ordained Test side, instead making do with a place against the Australian Barbarians in midweek.
While no English player was able to alter the selection during a helter-skelter draw in the opening game of the tour, Western Force fullback James O'Connor forced Deans to ink his name on to the team-sheet for the weekend with a hat-trick of tries and a superb performance from the kicking tee. He is joined in the back-three by Drew Mitchell and Digby Ioane, both scorers against Fiji, while England offer plenty of pace and invention out wide as Northampton duo Ben Foden and Chris Ashton are aided and abetted by Sale's Mark Cueto.
Outside of the front-rows, England have recalled Stade Francais lock Tom Palmer and Leicester's Tom Croft, with Croft's pace likely to be an asset against a strong Aussie loose trio. Such is the faith in Force openside David Pocock that Phil Waugh was deemed surplus to requirements, while filling the No.6 jersey is skipper Rocky Elsom. Harlequins' Nick Easter and Pocock's Force team-mate Richard Brown will face off in the battle at No.8.
England: B Foden (Northampton); M Cueto (Sale Sharks), M Tindall (Gloucester), S Hape (Bath), C Ashton (Northampton); T Flood (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), S Thompson (Brive), D Cole (Leicester), S Shaw (Wasps), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Croft (Leicester), L Moody (Leicester, capt), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: G Chuter (Leicester), D Wilson (Bath), C Lawes (Northampton), J Haskell (Stade Francais), B Youngs (Leicester), J Wilkinson (Toulon), M Tait (Sale Sharks)
Australia: J O'Connor (Western Force); D Ione (Queensland Reds), R Horne (NSW Waratahs), B Barnes (NSW Waratahs), D Mitchell (NSW Waratahs); Q Cooper (Queensland Reds), L Burgess (NSW Waratahs); B Daley (Queensland Reds), S Faingaa (Queensland Reds), S Ma'afu (ACT Brumbies), D Mumm (NSW Waratahs), N Sharpe (Western Force), R Elsom (ACT Brumbies, capt), D Pocock (Western Force), R Brown (Western Force).
Replacements: H Edmonds (ACT Brumbies), J Slipper (Queensland Reds), M Chisholm (ACT Brumbies), M Hodgson (Western Force), W Genia (Queensland Reds), P Hynes (Queensland Reds), K Beale (NSW Waratahs)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)