Bloodied Wallabies face English White Wash
England will never really get over their World Cup debacle last November but they have taken giant strides towards a kind of redemption with a Churchillian defensive rearguard to topple the Aussies in Melbourne.
Much will be written this week about England's achievement and Michael Cheika's honeymoon as Wallabies coach now coming to an abrupt halt.
In truth, Australia were not that bad in the second Test. Their pack stepped up from a timid display in Brisbane to get control of the breakdown and a certain amount of parity in the set piece. However, their shambolically high error count and questionable tactics, particularly with the refusal to take penalty kicks, ultimately cost the Wallabies in the end.
Skipper, Stephen Moore should take some responsibility for not taking the potential points via Foley's boot to instead go in vain search of richer bounty closer to England's line. For such a key Test match with a defining series on the line, surely it would have been wiser to take the points on offer and close down what was a tight match until the final moments.
Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing and the Wallabies will wonder what might have been having seen wave after wave of attack flounder on England's unbreakable white defensive wall. The Australians missed a playmaker to go alongside Bernard Foley to provide a bit of creativity to complement the muscular talents of Kuridrani and Kerevi. Spilt passes and knock-ons at key moments killed Australia, allowing England to grow even taller into their epic defensive efforts.
With the weather not allowing for a free flowing game which could have potentially suited Australia's firepower out wide in the shape of the ever dangerous Israel Folau, Australia had to adapt their tactics. This was where the match was won and lost, as England managed to scramble their defence and also stop the dangerous offloads that the likes of Folau and Kuridrani do so well. All credit has to go to England though.
Say what you like against Eddie Jones but he has masterminded an incredible turn around with English rugby since those dark days back in November. It is all very well providing provocative snippets to the press and opposing coaches but you have to back it up with results on the pitch. Jones has challenged his England squad to get fitter, tougher and better since he started his tenure and how they have responded.
Most of us, including yours truly, thought it was crazy to pick Chris Robshaw and James Haskell when Jones took over. And yet both of them were immense not just in this Test series but also throughout England's recent Grand Slam campaign.
They are contrasting characters Messrs. Robshaw and Haskell. The latter is a social media pioneer, a rugby globetrotter after stints in France, Japan and New Zealand, with a glamorous girlfriend to accompany him. Yet Haskell is truly old school on the pitch; you will find him where his body shouldn't be and he loves to tackle, as his 21 hits on Saturday is testament to.
Robshaw is opposite in character, quiet, unassuming and hating the limelight but he and Haskell are telepathy on the rugby pitch. Robshaw is another who will do the unglamorous work that does not get noticed. Clearing rucks, setting up mauls, supporting lineout jumpers, chasing kicks.
The Melbourne encounter was perfectly suited for Robshaw and Haskell because it was a traditional Test match full of niggle, hard yards and bodies on the line commitment. Robshaw was deservedly man of the match with Haskell a close second. A truly amazing turn around of fortunes from where they both were after the fallout of England's World Cup campaign that became apparent in November.
There will always be a place for these kinds of warriors no matter how razzle-dazzle rugby becomes in the future. Stating the obvious, the Wallabies have to win in Sydney to start a rebuilding phase before they take on the might of South Africa and New Zealand over the winter.
A 3-0 whitewash to their oldest enemy will be the ultimate insult and Cheika will have to get tough with his troops this week to make sure that does not happen. Aggression, which we saw in parts in the second Test from both sides, will only take them so far. They have to box clever and be flexible in their game plan. Christian Lealiifano has to be considered as a starter to complement the running skills of Foley and Folau.
For England, they are perfectly positioned to bring in replacements so that Jones can see who can make the grade as he molds his squad. They will have no pressure, which is a rare luxury in this sport and this should liberate England's backline in particular. Farrell, Itoje and Kruis have been outstanding for club and country and they should be given a rest. I would like to see George Ford move to stand off to partner with Slade and Elliot Daley in the centres. This will bring pace and creativity to the back three.
Alex Goode deserves a starting spot ahead of Mike Brown who has struggled for consistency since the World Cup. The motivation of winning 3-0 will be high but the question is whether England have enough juice in the tank to fend off a desperate Wallabies team.
We see it often in sport when a victorious team tries to get themselves up for a dead rubber and then gets tanked in the process. I think the Australians will win in Sydney in what should be an entertaining game to bring down the curtain of a memorable series – if you are an Englishman
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