Do-or-die for Australia as they fight to keep England series alive
A reshuffled Wallabies team face desperate battle against Eddie Jones’ buoyant England in second test showdown in Melbourne
The reshuffled Wallabies face a desperate battle to keep alive their test series with Eddie Jones’s buoyant England in a second test showdown in Melbourne on Saturday.
The world’s second-ranked team were ambushed by the well-drilled and motivated Six Nations champions, going down 39-28 in Brisbane last week to be thrown into an unexpected do-or-die struggle if they are to take the series to a decider in Sydney.
Coach Michael Cheika reacted to the shock loss by making four changes, all of them in the forward pack which came off second best to physical England in Brisbane.
Veteran props Sekope Kepu and James Slipper, who gave the Australia scrum more solidity when they came on as replacements in the first test, will start, with Sam Carter forming an inexperienced lock combination with Brumbies teammate Rory Arnold.
Lively flanker Sean McMahon was named at No 8 as a replacement for the injured David Pocock.
“Based on last weekend’s performance, we decided that we wanted some new combinations for Saturday’s game,” Cheika said.
Jones, the former Wallabies mentor and England’s first foreign coach, said he was bracing himself for a strong Australian response.
“History shows that in the professional era the Wallabies have never lost the second test,” he said this week.
“If you look back at the 2001 Lions series, 2013 Lions series, the Wallabies have always bounced back.
“The extra pressure is going to come from ourselves. We want to win this series and we have got an opportunity on Saturday, so we will be as desperate as the Australians, even more desperate.”
Jones got the better of Cheika, his old club teammate, in the opening test with his mind games and also his tactics – executed to perfection by fly half Owen Farrell – as well as the work-rate and aggression of flankers James Haskell and Maro Itoje.
England’s win was their first in Brisbane in five attempts and only their fourth in 18 internationals in Australia.
The Wallabies’ task has got harder with the unavailability of star ball-poacher Pocock for the rest of the series with an eye injury, leaving Cheika without one of his main weapons at the breakdown.
Cheika expects improvement from his revamped team after playing their first international since losing to New Zealand in the World Cup at Twickenham last October, while England were battle-hardened from winning the Six Nations in March.
“It was our first one for seven months and we knew there’d be some things we wouldn’t get right and I think we got a good handle on what we need to get right for Saturday,” Cheika said.
There will also be a focus on the Wallabies’ scrum after loose-head prop Scott Sio fell foul of French referee Romain Poite when he was sin-binned for repeated scrum infringements in Brisbane.
Sio, who played second-fiddle to England’s wily Dan Cole in the scrum, paid the price and was dumped from the match-day squad by Cheika for Melbourne despite being one of Australia’s stars at last year’s World Cup.
South African Craig Joubert will officiate in the second test and his rule interpretations will have a big say in the outcome of the match. The Wallabies have yet to lose a test under Joubert, except against arch-rivals New Zealand.