Toby Flood is determined for England to make a commanding start against Australia in Saturday’s Cook Cup showdown and test whether the wounded Wallabies really are “unstable”.
Australia head to Twickenham on the back of a 33-6 pummelling from France and without David Pocock, the flanker who has joined Quade Cooper, Will Genia and James O’Connor on the injured list. The Wallabies camp has been in a state of upheaval this year. Cooper blasted the environment as “toxic” and coach Robbie Deans has been under pressure after disappointing performances in the Rugby Championship.
Flood is unsure whether the Paris result is an accurate reflection of the state of Australian rugby, given a weakened Wallaby side drew 18-18 with New Zealand before they left for Europe. But he is certain that the best way for England to expose any cracks that do exist in the Australia camp is to hit them hard, right from the outset.
“Whether Australia are unstable or not as a side is an interesting one because I don’t trust the result against France,” Flood said. “The anomaly of France winning 33-6 is similar to Australia putting 50 points on the French two years ago. Both sides have the ability to do a lot of damage. I see them as a side that went 18-18 with New Zealand. Of course, they have had a few issues and the injuries will have had an impact on the continuity of the side. We will look to get an ascendancy in the first 20 minutes because, if we can turn the screw in the first 20 minutes, then it will make a big impact.”
England were sluggish out of the blocks against Fiji last week, taking nearly 20 minutes to get into the game, and can not afford a repeat performance. The last thing England want is for Australia, however depleted, to be given a chance to build up a head of steam and quieten a Twickenham crowd who will come expecting a red rose victory.
“We can’t give Australia a 20 minutes like we started the game with against Fiji because they will punish us,” said skills coach Mike Catt. “Australia still have some world-class game-breakers in their team.”
England have won their last two matches against Australia – in Sydney on the 2010 summer tour and then at Twickenham that autumn, when Chris Ashton scored his length-of-the-field try and Flood kicked 25 points.
Catt believes England could carry a psychological advantage into Saturday’s showdown, not just because of that recent record but also because of their historic scrum dominance. The Wallabies have been bullish about taking on England’s pack but early control from the red rose eight could re-open the scars of Twickenham in 2005 and Marseille in 2007.
“That is why the first 20-30 minutes are crucial,” Catt suggested. “We need to make sure we take the game to Australia and make sure they know they are in another Test match.”
England’s 23-man squad: Forwards: D Cole (Leicester), T Johnson (Exeter), J Launchbury (Wasps), J Marler (Harlequins), T Palmer (London Wasps), D Paice (London Irish), G Parling (Leicester), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), M Vunipola (Saracens), T Waldrom (Leicester), D Wilson (Bathy), T Wood (Northampton), T Youngs (Leicester). Backs: C Ashton (Saracens), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins), D Care (Harlequins), O Farrell (Saracens), T Flood (Leicester), A Goode (Saracens), C Sharples (Gloucester, M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester).