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England face crunch Test

Martin Johnson takes centre stage as he drives home a a message to his players
Martin Johnson takes centre stage as he drives home a a message to his players

By Alistair Eykyn
BBC Sport in Sydney

If England are to convince anyone that they are meaningful contenders for the 2011 World Cup, they have to beat Australia in Sydney.

The outcome of Saturday's second Test could prove pivotal in all kinds of ways.

The credibility of England boss Martin Johnson's managerial career hangs by the finest of threads.

It is not in Johnson's nature to quit, but should his side lose again, even he might start to question his ability to do the job. Played 22, won 8, lost 13, drawn 1. For all the talk of progress, his record is disappointing.

Last week's encounter in Perth was bizarre, with England totally dominant in the scrum but utterly bereft of ideas everywhere else. For half an hour, the men in white were nowhere.

Beaten up in the close exchanges, and their defence shredded repeatedly, the tourists handed the Wallabies a head start which proved critical.

Lewis Moody and his band of brothers need to send an early message with their physicality and commitment in the opening skirmishes in Sydney.

The inclusion of Courtney Lawes in the second row should bolster their abrasive edge, even if it diminishes their scrummaging weight.

Ben Youngs is a class act, and his first start at scrum-half will mean England's back division will benefit from a swift service, and a lightning sharp break.

Will Genia
England will have their work cut out trying to stop Genia

More than anything, the tourists need that most intangible of elements, belief. Only last week, Johnson himself singled it out as the most significant component required for a win down under.

Usually belief is bred through consistent victories and a positive environment. Even if they are lacking the former, the England management team have been insisting that they have the latter.

All the talk this week has been about proving that they are miles better than the display in Perth would have you believe.

Johnson's minor tweaking of the XV suggests he has said to his men, "go out and show everyone you can put things straight".

Australia remain confident that they can repeat their earlier victory of last weekend. Any side that can drop Luke Burgess after his outstanding performance in Perth needs to be taken very seriously indeed.

And yet in Will Genia they have perhaps the most exciting scrum-half talent in the world. England know his capabilities all too well. He was man of the match in a try-scoring display on his first visit to Twickenham in November 2009.

Genia has a silky delivery, is a constant threat around the fringes, and has pace to burn.

Outside him lies the laid-back Quade Cooper, emboldened by two tries last week, and then there is the returning Matt Giteau, who has been the general of Australia's back division for years. Giteau will win his 80th cap, and will bring not only a wealth of experience and calm, but an added devil to their attack.

Genia, Cooper and Giteau will provide a fearsome axis for England to contend with.

But what of the scrum? That was the one area England bossed during last week's game, and they should dominate again.

The Wallabies' coach Robbie Deans has kept faith with his novice props Ben Daley and Salesi Ma'afu despite the fact that they were pulverised in the set piece.

606: DEBATE
CaptainSpectacular

Aussie scrum coach Patricio Noriega has worked them into the ground this week.

At their press conference on Thursday, we were told the front row had been "flogged" and "punished" on the training ground.

It brought to mind those famously brutal scrummaging sessions led by Jim Telfer on the British Lions tour of 1997 in South Africa.

How much can a front row unit correct in one week? It's hard to tell, but suffice to say that Australia will be smarter in that department, and they will probably try to engage, feed, and whip the ball away as quickly as possible on their own put in.

They will have to be careful though, because the referee Romain Poite has a reputation for intolerance at scrum-time. Penalties will be given for indiscipline and foul play. Yellow cards will follow for persistent offenders.

So England know all too well the challenge that faces them. A greater intensity, tempo and physicality are all on the agenda, along with a much meaner defence, and a more calculated kick-chase game.

It sounds straightforward enough, but England under Johnson have yet to demonstrate that they can effectively transfer words into deeds.

If they fall short again, the big man's fitness for the job will be closely scrutinised, and the new Rugby Football Union chief executive John Steele might have a very awkward decision to make when he arrives for day one of his new job.



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see also
Jeremy Guscott column
18 Jun 10 |  Rugby Union
Youngs & Lawes start for England
17 Jun 10 |  English
Australia lose hooker Polota-Nau
16 Jun 10 |  Rugby Union
Australia 27-17 England
12 Jun 10 |  Rugby Union


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