Saturday, 17 November 2012

England v Australia - Preview

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Stuart Lancaster notched his first win since becoming permanent head coach of England with victory over a weak Fiji side last weekend - now he faces the much tougher task of beating Australia.

Despite the comprehensive 54-12 success over Fiji, Lancaster says there is "plenty to work on" ahead of the visit of the Wallabies.

As well as the short-term pleasure a victory over one of their greatest rivals will bring, England are also looking long-term, with a victory needed to boost their world ranking.

England dropped from fourth to fifth in the world rankings this week, and need to reclaim a place in the top four before the end of the year to be among the top seeds at the 2015 World Cup, something that should significantly help their chances at that tournament.

Australia also dropped a place to third in the world rankings after a dismal defeat to France, and can rarely have arrived at the home of rugby in such a beleaguered state.

Ravaged by injury, out of form and seemingly low on morale, the Wallabies need to win at Twickenham. If they lose, and France beat Argentina, the Wallabies would drop out of the top four to fifth, equalling their lowest position since the rankings were introduced in October 2003.

Pressure has been mounting on Australia head coach Robbie Deans. Over the summer, fly-half Quade Cooper described the Australian camp as "a toxic environment" and Wallabies legend David Campese is the latest to weigh in to the debate, saying "Deans has destroyed Australian rugby and I want him to go. We've got a team at the moment that can't catch and can't pass."

Despite ending New Zealand's hopes of a record-equalling 17th consecutive victory with a draw against the All Blacks last month, Australia have been below-par this year.

They have scored just 12 tries in their 12 Tests (in 2010, the year of their last visit to Twickenham, they touched down 49 times in 15 Tests), failing to score any in their last two games.

They will be up against a side featuring winger Chris Ashton, who scored two tries against them in England's victory the last time the sides met two years ago. The second of those tries was a length-of-the-pitch score that has gone down as one of the best-ever at Twickenham.

Ashton has notched up 15 tries in his 26 Tests but is yet to cross the line for England in 2012. The Saracens wing will relish the opportunity of putting that right and tormenting Australia yet further.

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