A loss means more doom and gloom for England - Andy Goode
England’s deciding third Test against Australia certainly won’t define the Eddie Jones era but it feels like a big moment as it sets the mood ahead of a huge season next time around.
Let’s face it, the mood wasn’t great and there wasn’t a lot of optimism ahead of this tour on the back of two consecutive desperately poor Six Nations campaigns. One swallow doesn’t make a summer and England need to back up their Brisbane victory but a series win Down Under will give people reason to believe once more.
This Australia side might not be up there with France or the Springboks but they are improving and to beat them in their own back yard at the end of a long, tiring season when the Wallabies are fresh would represent a significant achievement.
If they do it without Maro Itoje, who injects a lot of energy as well as being a world class second row (even if many don’t like his whooping and hollering), in addition to Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Henry Slade, Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Alex Dombrandt, Sam Simmonds, Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler, it’ll show significant squad depth too.
Aside from the couple missed while away with the British & Irish Lions, this is the first Test Itoje has missed since the last World Cup and he’s been at his disruptive best in the first two Tests but I actually think Ollie Chessum outplayed him in the Premiership final.
It’s a huge day for the Leicester man as he makes his first Test start but he’s earned his shot and Lewis Ludlam, the other enforced change, has put in a couple of big shifts off the bench so I don’t think either will let anybody down.
It’s great to see Jack Willis on the bench as well after he was a late withdrawal before the second Test. He’s an unbelievable poacher and will be desperate to go up against Michael Hooper, who has been one the best in the world at the breakdown for years.
The one alteration that wasn’t forced upon Jones is at scrum half and a lot of people are scratching their heads after Jack van Poortvliet went so well last week but Danny Care didn’t have a bad game at all in the first Test and his experience could be key with a number of youngsters around him.
Aside from the personnel, it was much more like the England of old last week with a greater focus on the kicking game and dominance in the collisions. They won the battle up front, owned the gainline and will have to do the same again if they want to take the series.
It’s not a complete coincidence that Australia won the first Test when there was a southern hemisphere referee in charge and England came out on top in the second when a northern hemisphere man was in the middle.
New Zealander Paul Williams has the whistle this week and the breakdown will be a huge battleground again. He’ll be pretty hot on the tackler rolling away and players giving him a clear picture so I’m sure England will have done their homework in that department.
England’s big name players, the likes of Ellis Genge, Courtney Lawes, Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Jack Nowell, really stood up last week and they won’t want to be thinking what might have been while they’re taking their well earned rest in the next few weeks.
They were always going to have to weather a storm after going 19-0 up and they’re unlikely to have things their own way as much this week but they went back to basics, managed the game well and it’s about managing the little momentum shifts in games as well.
Momentum is a huge factor in sport and it might only be one game but, out of these two teams, England have it and I think that gives them the edge in Sydney.
We all want to see Marcus Smith unleashed and England play with more freedom and creativity in attack but the result is all-important now and I expect it to be a case of more of the same in the deciding Test.
People will only remember whether England won or lost this series, not the details. Lose and it’s a long four months until the Autumn Nations Series with doom and gloom the pervading feeling. Win and there will be hope, just a sense that a corner may finally have been turned.
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