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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 14:48 GMT
Back and Smith hold key
Neil Back
Back returns to England's back-row in place of Dallaglio

England's ability to beat Australia at Twickenham on Saturday could come down to a duel between two ball-hungry predators.

Putting aside for a moment forward pressure, slick back-play and smart kicking, the match will be largely won or lost at the breakdown.

Domination at the coalface will determine which side enjoys the lion's share of possession.

George Smith (right) tries to block Brian O'Driscoll
Smith (right) is Australia's openside

And without the ball it is very hard to win a rugby match.

So step forward Neil Back for England and George Smith for Australia.

The openside flankers are the mongrels of the back-row with a scavenger's instinct for any scraps of ball which may, or may not, be going spare.

English veteran Back has been recalled to the side for number eight Lawrence Dallaglio after sitting out the New Zealand match.

England held on to win 31-28 against the All Blacks despite intense late pressure and Back's inclusion could be coach Clive Woodward's antidote to Australia's arch ball-winner Smith.

The Wallaby number seven himself certainly thinks so.

"Back's not dissimilar to the way I play the game. He's a scavenger and a workhorse around the field," Smith told BBC Sport Online.

"They've got a quicker back row now and it may be a factor."

But England's Richard Hill was equally admiring of Smith.

"He is very destructive at breakdown situations, always looking to be second man into the ruck to force turnovers and he does it very effectively," said Hill.

England scrum-half Matt Dawson complained earlier this week that they were nearly caught out by a lack of last-quarter possession against the All Blacks.

New Zealand came close to overhauling England's 31-14 lead early in the second half and Australia can also be expected to go for the jugular given the chance.


Neil Back is a great scavenger and is very good at stealing or slowing down opposition ball
Australia's Justin Harrison

But Wallaby lock Justin Harrison admits the introduction of Back, with Hill moving to number eight and Lewis Moody on the blindside, could pay dividends for the home side.

"It's interesting. Back and Smith don't necessarily snuff out each other - it's the tight forwards' jobs to take the openside out of the game," he said.

"But I'm sure they'll be keeping a little tally of stolen balls.

"Dallaglio has played great rugby for England in the past but he hasn't really been the same since he came back from injury.

"But Neil Back speaks for himself. He's a great scavenger of the ball and is very good at stealing opposition ball, and if not, slowing it down.

"Most teams these days try to hold the ball up as long as they can in the tackle area so they get a chance to realign defensive patterns.


Our back-row knows we must be on our toes or we could be missing next week
England number eight Richard Hill

"Back's recall is clearly an indication of what they're looking to do."

Hill admitted that against New Zealand, where he played as openside, he was overshadowed at the breakdown by Kiwi number seven Marty Holah.

"He had an extremely good game and to a certain degree dictated what happened around the contact area. He wasn't taken out of the equation," said Hill.

"I, along with the rest of the back row, know we've got to be on our toes or we in turn could be missing next week."

The duel between Back and Smith will be just one of the game's fascinating match-ups.

But an army is only as effective as its supply lines.

And Fortress Twickenham will certainly be under siege.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Australia's Justin Harrison
"I am sure they will be keeping a tally of stolen balls"
See also:

13 Nov 02 | International
13 Nov 02 | International
12 Nov 02 | International
12 Nov 02 | International
12 Nov 02 | International
Links to more International stories are at the foot of the page.


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