AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

STAR PREVIEW: England v Australia

It’s cliché to say it, but does England’s World Cup really start now? The first of four quarter-finals sees Eddie Jones’ men take on Australia in a game with a rich Rugby World Cup history, and it should provide a massive lift in intensity for the men in white.

The tournament has gone serenely so far for Jones’ men. Fixtures against Tonga (won 35-5) and the USA (won 45-7) didn’t provide any major problems, for all that England had to work hard in the former of those games, with Manu Tuilagi providing the breakthrough twice in the first half. They were much more impressive against the USA, when they found spaces with much more ease and looked much more fluent.

Their encounter with Argentina was expected to be a better test of where they’re at rather than their wins against Tonga and the USA, but when Tomás Lavanini became the fifth player to be sent off in this World Cup – and another player slow to fall foul of the directive to tackle below the neck and shoulders – the game was pretty much ended as a contest and England eventually won easily.

The decision for the visitors to start with Benjamin Urdapilleta was not vindicated as the fly-half, unable to threaten England’s gainline, put in a haphazard performance, and after tries for Jonny May, Elliot Daly and Ben Youngs, England were never in real danger.

If one could find fault with a 39-10 win, there was perhaps a lack of second half intensity when they didn’t score a point for 21 minutes before a try for Jack Nowell, but the substitutes did inject plenty of energy and two of them managed to score tries too.

Jones has changed things up for this clash, as is his wont, with George Ford having been dropped to the bench with Owen Farrell selected in his place at fly-half. Henry Slade comes in for Farrell – who has played centre in the World Cup to date – to partner Manu Tuilagi, bringing the combination which impressed so much during parts of the Six Nations.

Both Billy and Mako Vunipola have been declared fit to start, with George Kruis also dropped to the bench and Courtney Lawes starting in his place, and Tom Curry shifts across to blindside flanker as Sam Underhill wears seven.

Many people will be puzzled at Ford being dropped given his strong tournament so far, but Jones is a creature of habit and it’s clear he’s looking for an emphasis on a power game. This has worked very well for England in the past, most notably in the opening game of the Six Nations when England managed to blast through a traditionally miserly Ireland 32-10.

England used the boot a lot on that occasion to make every phase a contest and they have done so through this World Cup – only Russia had made more kicks from hand before the final round of pool matches, and they have kicked 87 times in three games.

A Telegraph analysis tells us that the whole backline has been involved with them – against Argentina Ben Youngs (nine), George Ford (eight), Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly (five each), Willi Heinz (four) and Henry Slade (one) all kicked, and the strategy proved to be effective.

Australia, on the other hand, have kept ball in hand through their pool stage, which has lurched from the fluid to the stop-start. They were impressive against Fiji, especially in the second half when they came from behind and outscored the Islanders 27-9 thanks to tries from Michael Hooper, Reece Hodge, Silatolu Latu (twice), Samu Kerevi, and Marika Koroibete.

They were once again punished for a slow start against Wales, when they were 26-8 down before scoring 19 points without reply in a brilliant display of both power and skill that just wasn’t enough.

Michael Cheika favours a carrying game – Australia have kicked just 13 times per match – but the limitations of such an approach were shown when the Wallabies gave an error-riddled performance in beating Georgia 27-8 on Friday. The dominant Australian pack forced the Georgians to attempt more than 200 tackles, but an off colour backline’s numerous errors were only heightened by playing in wet, windy pre-typhoon conditions in Shizuoka.

Cheika has gone for a heavy hitting backline with Samu Kerevi joined by the hotshot Jordan Petaia in the centres, presumably to target Henry Slade, and Will Genia partnering Christian Lealiifano in what’s sure to be a heavy running backline. Much will depend on the super dynamic duo of Michael Hooper and David Pocock, but one cannot underestimate the Australian frontrow – Scott Sio, Tolu Latu, and Allan Alaalatoa have all scrummaged and carried with purpose and England will have a pack battle on their hands.

Rugby World Cup 2019
England v Australia
Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final
Oita Stadium, Oita.
Saturday October 19
08:15 Kick-Off (UK Time)
Live on ITV1 HD & ITV Hub

(Maximum 10 matches, Since 2000)
NOV 2018 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS England 37-18 Australia
NOV 2017 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS England 30-6 Australia
DEC 2016 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS England 37-21 Australia
JUN 2016 ENGLAND TOUR OF AUSTRALIA Australia 40-44 England
JUN 2016 ENGLAND TOUR OF AUSTRALIA Australia 7-23 England
JUN 2016 ENGLAND TOUR OF AUSTRALIA Australia 28-39 England
OCT 2015 RUGBY WORLD CUP 2015 England 13-33 Australia
NOV 2014 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS England 26-17 Australia
NOV 2013 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS England 20-13 Australia
NOV 2012 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS England 14-20 Australia
NOV 2011 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS England 35-18 Australia

If there is to be a potential downside to such a clear passage to the quarter-finals for England it’s that with no serious 80-minute test, they could be undercooked against an Australian side that’s had two proper test match encounters.

Australia will be battle hardened but there are flaws in the Wallabies and the main one is recklessness. Australian indiscipline has blighted their tournament – Isi Naisarani’s yellow card against Georgia took their total for the tournament to three, and that does not take into account Reece Hodge’s citing for his high tackle on Fiji’s Peceli Yato in the opener.

Michael Cheika’s side have been woefully unprepared for the tackle directives and that leaves a constant risk of another yellow and they’ve racked up a hefty penalty count too. They lost the penalty count 12-5 against Uruguay and gave up eight to Wales and nine to Fiji too. Owen Farrell might not have been at his best but a penalty count that high will give him plenty of chances.

England are the clear favourites, and it’s understandable that’s the case Since Jones has taken the helm – in the aftermath of Australia’s 33-13 win in the 2015 World Cup at Twickenham – England have had the upper hand, winning the last six in a row between the two, and they have won by a margin of at least 16 points in 4 of the last 5 meetings between the two nations.

That makes an eight-point handicap seem reasonable, but this is a game on neutral territory and the weather is sure to play a big part too. Humidity is forecast along with rain, which is likely to make handling very tricky indeed. That’s a blow for the Australians, who have a tremendous amount of talent with ball in hand but who struggled badly against Georgia in the wet, and England can win a power battle between the two.

Australia were down by half time against both Fiji and Wales, and England can set off on the front foot if they’re not rusty and lead at both half and full time. A fit Billy Vunipola will benefit from strong set piece moves, and he did score against the USA, so he might be worth backing for a try at anytime.

RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK England/England 5 pts at 4/5 with
BACK Billy Vunipola Anytime Tryscorer 1 pt at 3/1 with
BACK England to win by 1-12 points 4 pts at 6/4 with

PROFIT/LOSS SINCE JAN 1 2017: PROFIT 221.91 points
(excluding Political Bets posted 8 August, Premier League ante-post, Cameron Brown football bets)