England can edge to victory
Sky Sports' Alex Payne is backing England to claim a narrow win over Australia in Saturday's Test at Twickenham.
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The great British sporting public has gotten used to Aussie bashing over the last year or so.
The Olympics, the Lions and the Ashes (yet again) have seen us swimming in glory, but for but how much longer can this golden run continue? The Ashes resume later this month, but before then the Wallabies roll into town for the start of their autumn tour this Saturday.
Of all the Australian sides, the rugby union team has taken the most heat over the last six months. The series loss to the best of British and Irish was forgivable, but the ensuing Rugby Championship campaign left their rugby public disillusioned and disinterested. Heavy home defeats to New Zealand and South Africa were followed by a scrappy, one-point win over Argentina and when the side rolled over lamely in the return match in South Africa, the fans deserted them.
Since then, however, Australia have put 50 points on the Pumas in a big win in Argentina, and 33 on the outstanding All Blacks in a narrow loss in New Zealand. So where is this current crop? Wallowing in the despair of only three wins in 10 games this season, or a side actually making rapid progress?
I'm tempted to go with the latter, and think in their last two performances there is real optimism creeping back into the Wallaby ranks. In individuals like Israel Folau and Michael Hooper they have players who can live with the very best in the game. There appears to be confidence returning to the combination of Will Genia and Quade Cooper, and the new centres of attention Matt Toomua and Tevita Kuridrani are fast settling into international rugby.
The off-field problems that have dogged the last couple of years have been dealt with by Ewen McKenzie, either through encouragement or eviction, and the camp seems happier and more focused than it has for a while.
This Saturday is set to be a celebration of 10 years since England famously won the World Cup in Sydney, but in the decade since, Australia have had the better of things with eight wins to England's four. Twickenham holds little fear after four wins there in their last six visits.
However, the call from Stuart Lancaster this week is that rugby's HQ needs to return to being a fortress. The marketing team are certainly helping with the creation of a 'white wall' from the supporters which is due to greet the England team as they run out.
But what of the team that will emerge from the tunnel? As with Australia, there is a degree of uncertainty about what to expect from England. Five Lions are missing in Geoff Parling, Brad Barritt, Manu Tuilagi, Alex Corbisiero and Tom Croft, which removes a huge amount of experience from Lancaster's armoury. Instead, the starting XV he's named average only 14 caps a man, and only three players have played more than 20 internationals.
There is a mixture of players in form (Dickson and Lawes) and guys who will be expected to hit the ground running after an unsettled start to the season; Billy Vunipola has been at six for Sarries, Twelvetrees has worn 10, 12 and warmed the bench for Gloucester while Joel Tompkins was left out of Sarries' big game with Toulouse in the Heineken Cup.
But Lancaster will hope that the elite environment of Team England creates a more effective machine than the component parts may individually suggest. The pack has a robust look to it, though the destruction of Corbisiero will be missed, while it will be a significant afternoon for Courtney Lawes who is asked to run the line out for the first time at international level. The back=row balance will again come under the microscope but the presence of Billy Vunipola at eight should free up Chris Robshaw to concentrate more on negating the effect of Hooper.
In the backs, Dickson has looked sharp this season and will martial his forwards and provide quick service for those outside him. Farrell has developed his game off the back of the Lions tour, and the back three has bite with big things expected of Marland Yarde, Chris Ashton looking lean and hungry and Mike Brown the form 15.
So what does all this mean when it comes to having a bet?
The first thing to say is that a chance of rain is forecast, which may affect things - particularly when you consider that in the last three games between these two, all 10 tries have been scored by the backs. For me, that is again where the main threats lie and the man who has to be covered off in the try scoring markets is Israel Folau. Even in a struggling Wallaby team he has looked superb, and I would look at him for first tryscorer (11/1) and back him for a double (10/1 to score two or more tries).
Australia are bound to give him opportunities by kicking high to the corners and Ashton, Brown and Yarde will have to strap wings to their boots to compete.
The other name worth investigating is Kuridrani (4/1 anytime). Lions fans will remember his score that helped the Brumbies to a famous win on this summer's tour. With his opposite number Joel Tomkins making his debut, expect Cooper to try to engineer opportunities for his 13 to test the new kid.
Finally for the Wallabies, don't ignore a fired up Will Genia (9/2).
For England, Marland Yarde (13/8 anytime) scored a double on his debut in Argentina and has a fast-growing reputation. Ashton has been quiet of late in the national colours, but is always worth attention (13/8), and what about the power of Billy Vunipola to bring the power off the back of a scrum that should be going forwards? 3/1 is your reward if the big man barrels over.
If you fancy longer odds, I'd look at Yarde and Folau to both score which is a juicy 12/1.
As for the game itself, I'm going for England to grow into it. Australia to start the faster (helped by that Folau first try!) and to be leading at half time, but England to sort themselves out and find a way to win can be backed at 13/2. I'll also take them to win by 1-5 points (9/2).
Australia are a very real threat, and there is a danger that England are undercooked so I will admit that, to some extent, it this is heart talking over head. But let's begin the autumn in a positive frame of mind and hope those in white do the same.