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Michael Cheika insists his Australia enter the game devoid of fear after promising all-out attack. Cheika will lock horns with his old Randwick team-mate Eddie Jones for the last time in their current roles as the losing coach is expected to depart should they suffer defeat in the last-eight showdown.
Australia are substantial underdogs, not least because of their six-Test losing run against Jones’ England, but Cheika insists they will play without restraint. “I always say, but no one seems to believe me, that my attention is always on just Australia, the type of game we can bring and how we can attack the opposition whether that’s with the ball or without it,” he said.
“Not thinking about how we’re going to defend against the opposition and what they will attack us with. Then it becomes a battle of will, who wants to attack more? When I talk about the attack I’m not just talking about with the ball, I’m talking about who wants to attack more.
“We’re almost I suppose dead in that way because the fear inside us is dead. We’re not afraid to go there and get it and that means it’s going to be a great game.”
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For all their history as sparring partners as coaches, Cheika and Jones have engaged in a joint charm offensive this week. Cheika, however, does not believes Jones’ claim that his decision to drop George Ford in favour of Henry Slade in order to beef-up England’s midfield is due to the threat of Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi.
“Most of that stuff is, what’s the word for it? Fake news? Like ‘I changed this because this is happening’,” Cheika said. “Mate, none of us are giving out our tactics in real life and we’d be mad if we did. If he was really telling me that he has changed the thing because of this… well I’m not going to go to my blokes and say, ‘Well, he changed everything because of you guys’.
“It’s irrelevant to us, that stuff, it’s just like turn up and be ready and play what’s in front of you. It doesn’t matter, as long as you know exactly what you want to get and you go out and get it.”
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Meanwhile, England’s ‘Kamikaze Kids’, who face Australia’s feared ‘Pooper’ combination in the quarter-final, admitted the Wallabies duo served as inspiration when growing up. Tom Curry and Sam Underhill played together for the first time in the record win over Ireland in August and their impact at the breakdown, when carrying and in defence has seen them installed as Jones’ preferred flankers.
They now collide with David Pocock and Michael Hooper, the veteran twin opensides who have operated in tandem to great effect since 2012, amassing 180 caps between them. Comparisons have been drawn between the rival back rows and Underhill understands why.
“We’re very much looking forward to it,” said the Bath forward, who is one half of the pair dubbed ‘Kamikaze Kids’ by Jones in recognition of the destruction they cause in training. “You want to challenge yourself against the best on the world and it’s fair to say they’re two world-class opensides.
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“They’re players who Tom and I when we were growing up and coming through looked at and inspired to be like, so it’s a bit surreal to be coming up against them now. There are similarities between us in some ways. In the game now, everyone is expected to do everything.
“The traditional roles when you have a specialist seven or blindside or eight… yeah, people have still got their strengths in certain areas but you have to be able to do everything. Even as a seven you’re expected to be carrying, good at set-piece, good in defence and in the breakdown. That’s probably why you see more sides picking two sevens because sevens can now do more, just as your sixes and eights can do more.”
Underhill’s excitement is shared by Jones, who played opensides George Smith and Phil Waugh together when Australia coach. “It’s going to be a great contest. Pocock has probably over the last ten years been the foremost number seven in the world,” Jones said.
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“Hooper is a massively important player for Australia, he’s a link player, takes the ball forward a lot once they get inside the
opposition’s 22. He’s obviously a key leader for the team, but our two young boys are just getting better every game. It’s going to be a battle at the breakdown. Curry has improved his lineout jumping immensely over the last six or eight weeks and Underhill’s probably the most combative seven I’ve seen for a long time.”
Underhill wears the seven jersey with Curry operating at blindside flanker where his additional size and height are better suited. “Being combative lends itself to the position. It’s a physical position and not the most glamorous of work at times but sometimes it’s not about line breaks, miss passes or kicks in behind,” Underhill said.
“It’s pretty gritty and unglamorous work. You have got to enjoy that and you’ve got to see how what you’re doing contributes to the team. When the guys are scoring out wide it’s usually because the forwards have done something good in the middle, something that’s fairly dull to watch but that creates special moments in the game.”
WATCH: Jim Hamilton previews the England vs Australia quarter-final in the latest episode of Don’t Mess With Jim
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