We’ve reached the final Test of the year, the last of 15 for the Wallabies in 2016 and with no Grand Slam on the table the only carrot on offer is a chance for Australian Rugby to finish the year on a high.
Though if you’re thinking there’s not a lot at stake in the battle at Twickenham, you are wrong.
Whether we like it or not, teams and coaches are defined by wins, which sometimes doesn’t tell the full story of a year with a lot of close games and close calls along the way shaping the final numbers in the win-loss column.
As I wrote here last week, Australia’s depth in a lot of positions is better than it has been for a number of years. Ideally you’d want to have more consistency in your starting fifteen, but a number of players have been given an opportunity and taken those opportunities this year.
The sideshow to it all this weekend is the Michael Cheika v Eddie Jones battle. It’s become very personal between the two coaches since some barbs were thrown earlier in the year when England toured Australia. Now they’ve taken it to another level in the lead up to Sunday’s game.
Both coaches like to take the stand and shield their players from the attention, putting themselves in the face of the media. Cheika wears his heart on his sleeve, and sometimes to his detriment.
Eddie is a character who is hard to like. Anyone who has worked with him or dealt with him would tell you that.
He left Australian Rugby in a mess after eight straight losses at the end of his coaching tenure with the Wallabies, and left Queensland in a similar state after his stint up here.
There is no doubt he has a huge work ethic, one of the biggest, and it is undeniable that the Wallabies were outplayed convincingly in the three Tests in June, even though they were limited by personnel.
What I am really looking for this weekend is for the Wallabies to vary their attack a lot more than they did during the June Series.
We can’t serve up the same predictable attack by repeatedly throwing the ball off the base of the ruck into the midfield. We need to win the contact, control the transition zone with strong ball-carriers and go forward and then play through the midfield.
The Dan Cole issue has been beaten up, but some of his predecessors like Andy Sheridan and Vickery were in a different league when it came to pushing the line of the law at scrum time. I think we’ll hold our own in the scrum battle and it should be very competitive at the breakdown.
There will be a number of tactical nuisances that come into play, and Eddie will be looking closely at the lineout where he knows Australia probably only have two serious jumpers.
Once again, he’ll look to win the battle in the tactical kicking game and this is where Australia is at a huge disadvantage and was one of the defining factors in the June Series whitewash.
Bernard Foley has had a great tour but he doesn’t have a huge boot and there is an over-reliance on him to produce in the kicking game with the lack of any other real option in the team.
Israel Folau, for all of the world-class features of his game, is certainly not a reliable kicking option which leaves the Wallabies exposed in this area of the game. England, on the other hand, have two of the best tactical kickers in the world in George Ford and Owen Farrell.
If our kicking isn’t at our highest standards, there is every chance Australia will get blown off the park on Sunday, although there is no shortage of motivation for them and we know that we will always match any opposition for courage.
If Australia are to regain their standing as the number two side in the world, the Rugby brains really have to come into play. How we play the game on Sunday will set the tone for the future.
John 'Knuckles' Connolly, was a former Wallabies and Queensland Reds Head Coach, and has in the past worked with the Stade Français, Swansea RFC as well as Bath Rugby.
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.