England on red alert for Wallabies backrow

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

England backrower James Haskell says his side will be on red alert at the breakdown in the opening Test against the Wallabies.

The English were well beaten at the breakdown in last year’s World Cup but Haskell is one who has found new life under Eddie Jones.

Haskell knows the Aussie players better than most, having played for the Highlanders and is well aware of the triple threat the likely starting lineup of Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper and David Pocock.

“Pocock was obviously a world class player already but he gained legendary status after the way he performed in the World Cup,” he said.

“Fardy was the unsung hero but he was great (and) Hooper, when I came over and played against him he was probably one of the best players I played over my entire time in Super 15.

“We know exactly what it’s about but as a player you’ve got to have every confidence that you go there and match them.”

'He's the best player I played in my time in Super Rugby.' Photo: Getty Images The Wallabies look likely to stick with the approach of dual openside flankers, a combination that was so successful for the min the World Cup, and Haskell said it was a furphy that it made the pilfering threat any bigger.

“Every time you play against a side who play with two opensides everyone gets very excited about the breakdown but honestly if you watch any backrow I would say all three back row players all compete for the ball.

“Those two (Pocock and Hooper) in particular are very good at it, they probably get more steals than (not) whereas you get some backrow who’ll have a go but don’t necessarily get the steals.

“We’re fully aware of what Australia bring and how good they are but at the end of the day, we’ve got to be on the red alert for whatever you’re playing and how they’re going to play it. “

England’s back row selections are keeping everyone guessing, with the potential for prodigious talent Maro Itoje to switch into blindside flanker.

Haskell said it wouldn’t matter which number players wore as long as selection favoured the balance of the team.

“Every time he takes the field he wins something,” he joked.

“He’s been great, played in all sorts of positions for Sarries (Saracens) and at the end of the day, I’ve always said this.

“It’s about the balance of a back row. It doesn’t matter what number you’ve got on the back of your shirt or what you’re doing.

“If that was an option then I’m sure he’d do outstandingly well there.”

Maro Itoje could be England's most dangerous player. Photo; Getty ImagesWallabies coach Michael Cheika has already pointed to Itoje as the major English threat and defence coach Nathan Grey said on Tuesday he would be in Australian sights, wherever he played.

“The kid can play. He’s got some game,” he said.

“It’s impressive and it’s good to have people coming through your system like that.

“He performed at that U20s level and he stepped up so he’s doing a good job in terms of that consistency and playing at this level and I’m sure the coaches are pleased with him.”

Both England and Australia will name their teams on Thursday.