Australia v England preview: Eddie Jones’ men to edge to series victory over the Wallabies

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

After two intriguing matches, it all comes down to this for Australia and England as they face off in the decider at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

After the Wallabies overcame a man disadvantage to stun the Red Rose 30-28 in the opening encounter, Dave Rennie’s men were then left similarly shellshocked as the Red Rose raced out to a 19-0 lead in the second match. It proved to be enough for Eddie Jones’ charges to hold on and take the series to a winner-takes-all clash in Sydney this weekend.

England are undoubtedly the team with momentum, especially against an Aussie outfit that have suffered numerous injuries over the past couple of weeks. However, it is to the hosts’ great credit that it is still a strong and potentially series-winning side that they have managed to put out.

Depth does appear to be building in Australian rugby and they will present a stern challenge for the visitors, even if the Red Rose are perhaps the team with confidence, particularly in the fundamentals of the sport.

Although the scrum and lineout battle were evenly matched in Brisbane, the visitors very much had the ascendency in maul, breakdown, discipline and the aerial battle.

Despite the changes that have been made, Jones’ men still have the larger, more set-piece orientated pack of forwards. The Wallabies can still counteract that threat effectively, though, by simply being smarter and making fewer mistakes.

Australia played some really dumb rugby in the first half last week and it cost them dearly, but if they can cut out those silly errors then they have an opportunity to win the series.

As for England, it is a case of taking the same game plan but doing it over a longer period of time. They faltered either side of the break last Saturday before regaining their composure and eking out a 25-17 triumph.

Most facets are in the tourists’ favour but we think it will be a very tight Test and one which goes right down to the wire.

What happened in the second Test

England gained revenge for the opening Test defeat by overcoming Australia 25-17 in Brisbane. The Red Rose got off to a blistering start, going 19-0 up via Billy Vunipola’s try and 14 points from the boot of Owen Farrell before the Wallabies came back into the contest. Taniela Tupou and Samu Kerevi touched down, with Noah Lolesio kicking two conversions and a penalty, to bring the Wallabies back into contention. However, a pair of Farrell three-pointers in the second period was enough for the Red Rose to level the series and set things up nicely ahead of this weekend’s Sydney clash.

What they said

Wallabies scrum-half Nic White insists they must start better and compete with England physically.

“We knew they were going to come out with a bit of edge and that physicality and we were just pretty disappointed with our physicality, our edge, so there’s a fair bit for us to look at,” White said.

“Both games they’ve come out firing; they’re big men and we’re going to have to be better up front as they got us in the contact areas.

“That will be a focus for us, fronting up physically at the start, as I feel like both games we’ve come home pretty strong so it’s about arresting those 20 minutes.”

England wing Jack Nowell says that a series victory over Australia would eclipse their historic whitewash in 2016.

“If I look back to last time we were out here, winning 3-0 was special,” he said.

“But to come from 1-0 down – and hopefully the idea is to be 2-1 at the end of it – is hopefully something I will remember more.

“The thing we spoke about was that, if we lost the second Test, we lose the series. It was as simple as that and when you keep it that simple, it frees us up on the field.

“We had a lot riding on the second Test and, if we had lost, the series was over. When that’s in the front of your minds going into a game, it’s all or nothing.”

Players to watch

Set-piece, physicality and gain line are the key areas for Australia this week but their replacements will not automatically rectify those issues. They have certainly gone for a slightly contrasting approach by selecting Harry Wilson at flanker and Nick Frost at lock over Rob Leota and the injured Cadeyrn Neville respectively.

Bringing in Wilson may well weaken the lineout and he certainly isn’t as abrasive at close quarters in comparison to Leota, but he is a very skilful player. The Reds star will roam in the wider channels, use his footwork and balance to get past defenders and provide the Wallabies with front foot ball. That logic could also be applied to Frost, who is tall, incredibly athletic and very quick. His height and jumping ability will be an asset in the set-piece but he doesn’t quite have the experience or expertise of Neville just yet.

It suggests a different tact from Rennie, who is perhaps looking for his side to be slightly less ‘up the guts’, and hoping they can move the main point of contact out wide. If they can get over the advantage line that way, it will then allow the likes of the more physical runners, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete, to isolate the weaker defenders and really get Australia moving forward.

England’s task, like in the first half last week, will be to starve the Wallabies of ball. Without the hugely influential Maro Itoje, there is a big onus on the talented Ollie Chessum to fill the rather large void left by the world-class lock. The Leicester Tigers starlet does most things very well, from lineout to ball-carrying, and in time will be an outstanding player, but it’s a big ask for a youngster making his first international start.

Chessum should perhaps get tips from Jack van Poortvliet on how to deal with the pressure after his stunning display in the second Test. Surprisingly, the talented scrum-half has been dropped to the bench for this clash, which means Jones must have something specific in mind when naming Danny Care in the starting XV.

Care, contrary to some people’s opinion, actually had a decent game in the opener. The Harlequins man sniped around the fringes, produced slick enough service for the outside backs and box-kicked pretty well. The 35-year-old doesn’t have the passing ability nor the pinpoint kicking accuracy of his much younger team-mate, but he will challenge the defensive line more often and bring runners off his shoulder.

Main head-to-head

Rob Valetini was one of the Wallabies’ star performers in 2021 but he has been rather outplayed by Billy Vunipola this series. Not that the Brumbies youngster has been poor but that he has yet to reach the level of the Englishman. Vunipola has been at that world-class standard in years gone by and it is perhaps the gear Valetini has not quite hit in his career so far.

That is what the 23-year-old will look to emulate in the final Test, where his big ball-carrying will be vital to Australia’s hopes. Usually, Valetini makes dents in defences but, despite being difficult to cut down, the back-row hasn’t been as effective as his opposite number in that area.

Vunipola’s power and frame are obvious but he has slimmed down slightly over the past year and that has been obvious in his footwork and balance. As a result, the Saracens number eight is a much more effective player for both club and country, and has once again cemented his place in the Red Rose first XV. However, Jones demands plenty from his players and he will want another top-drawer display from the 29-year-old.


This is a tough one. Australia surely can’t be as poor as they were in the first half last week but their injury list grows ever-larger. While the Red Rose also have a few players out themselves, they haven’t been as hampered by absentees and their pack is still very strong. Tentatively, we’re going for England by three points.

Previous results

2022: England won 25-17 in Brisbane
2022: Australia won 30-28 in Perth
2021: England won 32-15 in London
2019: England won 40-16 in Oita
2018: England won 37-18 in London
2017: England won 30-6 in London
2016: England won 37-21 in London
2016: England won 44-40 in Sydney
2016: England won 23-7 in Melbourne

The teams

Australia: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Tom Wright, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Harry Wilson, 5 Nick Frost, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 David Porecki, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Leota, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Len Ikitau, 23 Suliasi Vunivalu

England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Guy Porter, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Tommy Freeman, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Lewis Ludlam, 6 Courtney Lawes (c), 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Ollie Chessum, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Jack Willis, 21 Jack van Poortvliet, 22 Will Joseph, 23 Henry Arundell

Date: Saturday, July 16
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground
Kick-off: 20:00 local (11:00 BST, 10:00 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Hart (New Zealand)

READ MORE: Rating every northern hemisphere side’s chances of a series win on Saturday


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