It’s ten years since England won the rugby World Cup. That victory was the start of a remarkable change in fortunes. Before that day in November 2003, the Aussies had largely done as they pleased. They biffed the Poms at cricket, they were rugby world champions, untouchable at league and had just hosted one of the great Olympics.
Apart from league, at which the Kangaroos have again dealt to England, all that dominance switched around after that day in November. Suddenly England became good at cricket again, hosted a magnificent Olympics, again beat Australia at a rugby World Cup.
But I wonder, just wonder, if the momentum is just starting to leak again. When you compare England’s 2013 team with the one that won the 2003 World Cup, I wonder how many, if any, would make the team from back then.
To refresh memories, the World Cup winning team was Lewsey, Robinson, Greenwood, Tindall, Cohen, Wilkinson, Dawson, Woodman, Thompson, Vickery, Johnson, Kay, Hill, Back, Dallaglio. The only current player who I think could make a very good case for inclusion in the 2003 side is Alex Corbisiero, and he is not even playing this weekend.
No one else convinces, and that is a worry just two years ahead of a World Cup. When England won the final in 2003, they were the number one ranked team in the world, they had won 40 of their previous 44 internationals, they had beaten the Aussies for a fifth straight time. So when Lancaster talks of fortress Twickenham, you admire the sentiment, but worry about the reality.
Having been stuffed by Wales a few months ago, England cannot afford to lose against Australia at the weekend. How would the group of death look then? But there is a callow look to parts of the team that remains a worry just two years from a World Cup. The 2003 team had started to fine tune by now, as the All Blacks are currently doing, but this England side looks far from settled.
Australia’s scrummage will be a target on Saturday. It is again extremely vulnerable under the new laws. Their back five is also unbalanced and unconvincing. At full back Israel Folau is a huge attacking force, but his defensive positioning is woeful at times. There are lots of areas to attack the Aussies, but are England good enough to exploit them?
12 months ago England’s defensive system was completely exposed by Australia, to the point that it required a re-design for the forthcoming matches. The Aussies have always been good at finding the holes and their midfield is at last starting to improve, Kuridrani having a big game against New Zealand a fortnight ago.
It’s a massive game for both nations ahead of the 2015 World Cup. Ten years ago England got into the habit of beating Australia. Victory in the final completed a winning sequence that had begun in 2000. But since that final Australia have won 8 matches against England’s 4.
Saturday’s game is not just another test match. It could be the difference between winning and losing in two years time.
Are the Wallabies about to turn their fortunes around and mount a charge ahead of 2015? Where will Saturday’s game be won & lost? comments below…