Two of rugby’s greatest rivals will clash on Saturday when England take on Australia in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup.
Following a perfect campaign so far, Eddie Jones’ men arguably face their first real challenge in the Wallabies, who came second in Pool D after losing to Wales despite beating Fiji, Uruguay and Georgia.
The Red Roses have looked full of self-belief in the World Cup so far and are six games unbeaten against Australia, dating back to 2016.
England also come into the fixture with a two-week break under their belt, after their final group game against France was called off due to Typhoon Hagibis.
As a result, most would name England favourites for the fixture. However, the underdog tag can often prove a psychological advantage as the Wallabies look to end their losing run in the fixture.
Springing a selection surprise, Eddie Jones has opted to drop in-form George Ford, with Owen Farrell moving back to fly-half and Henry Slade filling the gap at centre. This signals a desire to beef up the midfield and could indicate a much more direct approach.
Jones said: “Defensively, we feel like it’s a pretty strong 10-12-13 combination and we know that Australia is a high possession team, high phase team.”
“That’s how they want to play, that’s how their fans want them to play so there’s going to be a lot of defending in that area and we believe that those three guys are well equipped to handle it.”
Australia unveiled their own wildcard when coach Michael Cheika selected teenager Jordan Petaia as outside centre. The 19-year-old is the first Austrlian born in the 21st Century to feature in a World Cup knock-out game, and Cheika has backed him to show the world what he can do.
He said: “The guy has been in around the squad for a while now, even though he’s young. He is more than ready to do this. I trust him infinitely, and that’s why he has been chosen.”
Jones and Cheika may be rival coaches now, but there was a time when they stood shoulder to shoulder on the rugby field back in Australia. They both enjoyed long careers for Sydney side Randwick, and Jones’ spoke highly of his opposite number.
“I’m proud of the job he does. They’re a clever team. They play good rugby. They’ve improved their scrum and line out over the last six to 12 months considerably, and that makes them more difficult to beat.”
However, friendships will be set aside when the two teams step onto the field on Saturday for the 8.15AM kick off.
Photo by Belinda Lester, under Creative Commons license