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"The pressure's on England"

  
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10/30/2013


Qantas Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has gone on the front foot as the Men of Gold get set to begin their Grand Slam-Spring Tour against England at Twickenham on Saturday. (Sunday morning 1.30AM AEDT)

"As much as everyone talks about us, they're under pressure themselves," said the Wallabies boss of Australia’s first up opponents.

"They'll want to get off to a good start, they've got New Zealand coming up, Argentina. There's a weight of expectation they've got to feel as well."

McKenzie has undergone a baptism of fire as Wallabies coach facing the toughest initiation possible, meeting world No.1 New Zealand three times and world No.2 South Africa twice in the recently completed Bledisloe Cup and Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship.

No other international team faces such a tough schedule but McKenzie has copped it squarely on the chin in his first few months in charge, not backing down from the challenge or making excuses for a run of losses.

To date the former Reds and Waratahs head coach has only two victories against Argentina from his seven Tests in charge but there were very promising signs in Australia’s 54-17 decimation of the Pumas in Rosario and the narrow 41-33 reverse to the All Blacks in Dunedin to clearly show Australia are heading in the right direction.

As for England their recent form has been unpredictable to say the least going from the highest of highs, smashing the All Blacks 38-21 in December last year, to the lowest of lows, giving up their Six Nations title charge with an embarrassing 30-3 drubbing at the hands of Wales in Cardiff in March.

Since then coach Stuart Lancaster took a largely development squad, minus his British & Irish Lions stars, to Argentina in June where they comfortably beat an understrength Pumas 51-26 and 32-3.

But the Wallabies are England’s first Test of this northern hemisphere season and McKenzie’s battle hardened troops may have the edge against the home team who have only a few training runs together under their belt.

A fortnight ago the Wallabies were going toe-to-toe with the All Blacks.

The Wallabies also have the added motivation of trying to knock England off third place in the IRB world rankings, a spot recently held by Australia.

McKenzie is using the lack of preparation to spread the seeds of doubt in the England camp.

"They haven't played [as a full squad] since that [Wales] game” McKenzie observed, “and as much as there's a fair bit of hype and interest about narrowing the squad down now, and who might play ... they haven't really played for six months or more as a group.”

"We're quite pleased to get them first out, because everyone's going to be watching. Since that Wales game everyone will be wanting to see what's happened in the meantime. It's not a bad circumstance for us."

Scrums, as always in the northern hemisphere, will be under the microscope, but Lancaster is full of respect for the Wallabies pack, while not under-estimating his own pack’s formidable power.

"We feel strong, but we recognise that the Australians aren't to be underestimated in this regard," he said.

"There were scrums on the Lions tour … I remember the one at the end of the first Test, which was Lions' ball but Australia won the penalty and had a kick to win the game. So I don't see Australia as having a weakness in that area.”

A chink in the English armor has also opened up with Lions powerhouse Alex Corbisiero being ruled out of Saturday’s clash. The young Northampton loosehead was outstanding in the final Test for the Lions three months ago, scoring a try and tormenting the Wallabies at scrum time.

McKenzie won’t risk one of the Wallabies own powerhouses, returning Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, who has not played in months.

But Brumbies centre Christian Lealiifano, wingers Nick Cummins and Joe Tomane and hard working back rower Scott Fardy, are all available for selection.

The as always canny McKenzie is playing his cards close to his chest, not giving England any idea whether Lealiifano or the impressive Matt Toomua would start at inside centre at Twickenham, with the hard running Tevita Kuridrani expected to hold his place at outside centre after a superb performance in Dunedin.

For once McKenzie is in a good position with lots of fit players putting their hands up for a start this weekend.

"I've got lots of hard decisions to make," McKenzie explained. "I thought [Toomua] did pretty well in that [Dunedin] game at that level and in that position. He put his hand up, which is what you want."

The Cook Cup Test should be a cracker so start making your plans to watch it now - and if you're going out to catch the big game remember to have a Plan B to get home afterwards.