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Page last updated at 08:14 GMT, Friday, 11 June 2010 09:14 UK

Injury-hit Wallabies look vulnerable

England v Australia
Venue: Subiaco Oval, Perth Date: Saturday, 12 June Kick-off: 1100 BST
Coverage: Live coverage on Sky Sports 1; live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra; text commentary and live scores on BBC Sport website

By Alastair Eykyn
BBC Sport in Perth

There is so much at stake for England here in Perth.

Toby Flood
The Wallabies may have feared Jonny Wilkinson more than Toby Flood

Martin Johnson has said the World Cup countdown begins now as this is the last time England travel to the Southern Hemisphere before the tournament begins next autumn.

They need to find a way to capitalise on the very encouraging signs from Paris at the end of the Six Nations, and drive home the advantage they have been handed thanks to a raft of injuries to key Wallabies.

England's win-loss ratio under Johnson is not too clever.

Eight wins from 19 is a poor return, and it looks even worse if you include the two Test defeats in New Zealand in 2008 (Johnson was not present, but selected the side from the UK.)

If you dig a little deeper, you find that the World Cup-winning captain has overseen a solitary victory away from home in his two years in charge, against Italy in Rome in this year's Six Nations, and England's track record on the road needs addressing before time runs out.

So what chance do they have against Australia? Historically, the omens are not promising.

England have beaten the Wallabies down under just twice. Both of those wins came in 2003, the most famous and most recent of which was achieved thanks to the wonder strike from Jonny Wilkinson's right boot in extra time of the World Cup final.

606: DEBATE
Sorby

It may go some way to explaining why every Aussie you meet, including current and former players, expects England's most famous fly-half to start the first Test. The wounds and the manner of that defeat in 2003 cut deep into the core of the Australian sporting psyche. Arguably, Wilkinson is feared here more than anywhere else in the world.

For all the historical signposts though, there are reasons to expect England to prosper in Perth.

Australia have been hit hard by injuries, almost to the same point that England experienced back in November last year when their own resources were ravaged. Without a first choice front row of Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and Benn Robinson, they have been forced to summon a pair of rookie props and a hooker with only a few minutes of Test rugby behind him.

Ben Daley will make his international debut at loosehead, Salesi Ma'afu plays at tighthead after just a single run-out against Fiji last weekend, and Saia Faingaa will be sandwiched between them at hooker, making his first start.

Standing opposite is an English front row with 80 caps shared between Tim Payne, Steve Thompson and Dan Cole. It is not a given, but it is up to them to make sure they gain the expected edge at scrum time. As with every game of rugby, it must be the stable platform on which England can build.

Saia Faingaa
England must ensure Saia Faingaa does not have an easy debut at hooker

The late withdrawal of Matt Giteau with a hip injury also boosts England's chances. For years now he has been the playmaker, the conductor of the Wallaby orchestra, the man conjuring something special to make and break games. His experience and Test match savvy will be missed.

But as Australia's coach Robbie Deans pointed out, his withdrawal is less significant now than it would have been a year ago. In that time Berrick Barnes has gained plenty of big-match game time to add to his enormous potential - and fly-half Quade Cooper has grown into quite a player.

Anyone who has been watching the Super 14 this season will testify to his brilliance. England's back row will need to pay attention, or Cooper will slip through their fingers.

At scrum-half, Luke Burgess steps in as the Wallabies look to ease the outstanding Will Genia back into international rugby from the bench. He looked razor sharp in training, so it is unlikely to be long before he is let loose.

England will have to offer more than physicality up front. Yes, they should gain an edge in the set-piece, but it's unlikely to be the kind of all-out forward domination that they have enjoyed on occasions against Australia in the past. Everywhere else on the park, the Wallabies look the equal of - or better than - England's line-up.

They will win enough ball to do damage. And with the likes of Cooper, Digby Ioane and James O'Connor, they have the firepower to convert that into points.

England will feel well equipped to do that too - their back three looks potent and should be full of running. Chris Ashton, Mark Cueto and Ben Foden need the target men of Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall to repeatedly get over the gain line and provide quick ball.

So the World Cup preparations begin in earnest here in Perth. There will not be too many better opportunities to beat a Wallaby side on Australian soil. Johnson's men must grasp it with both hands, and convince the doubters that they are on the right path.



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see also
Hape set for England Test debut
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Johnson keen on Hape's defensive qualities
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Guscott's analysis
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England call up Dowson for Fourie
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Wallabies win marred by injuries
05 Jun 10 |  Rugby Union
Johnson takes positives from England draw
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Aussie Barbarians 28-28 England
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Johnson wants 'smarter' England
30 May 10 |  Rugby Union
England 35-26 Barbarians
30 May 10 |  Rugby Union
England pick nine untried players
11 May 10 |  English
Hape is mixing with the best
23 Oct 07 |  Rugby League


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