Since Eddie Jones has been in charge England are unbeaten and importantly have started to look like a side that are going places. However, the harsh reality is that during the opening six matches that he's been in charge England haven't been truly tested against the sides that set the standard in world rugby.
Perhaps that statement will niggle at the fans of the other Six Nations' participants, as they will see it as a slight on their nations, but in reality it's true. The next three tests in Australia will be a step up and without question are England's litmus test of the extent of their true development in a relatively short space of time.
From the moment that the Six Nations ended Eddie Jones started to talk about the way that England will handle, and ultimately, beat Australia. He's referred to England taking a 'Bodyline' approach in order to counter and deal with the higher intensity and speed that they'll face. For those that aren't familiar with the Bodyline concept the Australian is referring to how an England test cricket side went over to Australia in the 1930s and played the game in the most physical and aggressive manner ever seen. In spite of being huge underdogs the touring side finished with a series victory and ruffled a fair few feathers in the process.
With Eddie Jones' choice of words he is laying down the challenge to Australia and to his players. He's starting to deliver a few opening-jabs at their opponents and in doing so demanding that his players know exactly what's required from them. The development of England's hard-nosed edge has been high on the Australian's agenda since moment one and it's absolutely essential to their success. During the Rugby World Cup the Australian players believed that they could 'walk all over England' and take a few pops at them without gaining a reaction. That insight was something Ugo Monye shared on BBC 5Live a few months ago and that certainly won't be the case now.
Eddie Jones' selection reflects this need for confrontation from the outset. Owen Farrell's shift to 10 with Luther Burrell entering the fray at 12 provides a physical challenge down both channels. The pack's work in that area hasn't ever been in doubt but should be taken to another level and as part of that I expect Dylan Hartley to have one of his best games in an England jersey and lead from the front. On a fast track England have not only the physical presence to handle Australia but they also players that can let rip in the playing conditions. Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and Mike Brown should all excel in the harder ground as well as George Ford and Jack Nowell coming off the bench and doing the same.
Of course the selection of Marland Yarde has baffled many for the aforementioned Exeter Chief had an impressive domestic run-in and looked sharp in the Premiership Final. Yet, Eddie Jones has said that he's 'come back from Exeter a little bit short of where he needs to be' while Yarde has been 'racing around like a fox' in training and is in a 'good bit of form'
There's no denying that Marland Yarde has had a quieter time than his counterparts this season however Eddie Jones' sees tremendous potential in him and he's right to. I watched the winger come through the ranks at London Irish, gaining his early first-team experience, and he has so much natural talent that it must annoy others. The problem was that he didn't apply himself as he should and plateaued when he made the 'big move' to Harlequins. Now, it appears that Yarde has matured, got his feet back on the ground and lost a bit of his ego. With Eddie Jones' full backing this 'bolter' could have the tour of his life and surprise a lot of people. For England's sake, and his own, I hope that he does.
England's back line, scrummage and lineout do not concern me in the slightest however the one area that we always discuss, the breakdown, does. Earlier this week I watched 'that' World Cup game and again witnessed Fardy and 'Pooper' absolutely destroying England. In the months that have passed since that fateful October evening the Australian trio haven't gone off the boil and have the potential to be just as destructive on Saturday. Will Robshaw, Haskell and Vunipola have the same issues that Wood, Robshaw and Morgan did at Twickenham? I pray to the rugby gods that they won't. The work that's been done with George Smith, the addition of Maro Itoje's presence and breakdown skills and the greater agility and work rate of England's pack have to come to the fore on Saturday. England can't mess around at the breakdown instead it needs to be quick, clean and efficient with little time to linger. As ever that's a vital area and one of the greatest keys to success in this first match.
No-one needs reminding of the magnitude of this opening-test, mathematically the series won't be won or lost on Saturday but the side that prevails in Brisbane will take a significant advantage heading into the following two. By my calculations England are in a positive place ahead of Test one for a number of reasons.
First, they've won 6 on the bounce so are taking into the series a healthy amount of winning momentum. Second, they've already had a hit out and got themselves back into the England way whereas the Australians haven't. This means England should be straight into their groove from the opening moments whereas Australia's first quarter might be akin to England's at Twickenham - a little rusty. Third, there's an unrelenting belief that they are ready and that they can beat their opponents.
'We expect to win, we wouldn't have got on the plane if we didn't.' They were the words of Dylan Hartley and believe me when I say that he will never just say something for the sake of it or because it's the right thing to say to the media. There's a steely resolve in their captain's eye and Saturday's test match is going to be one hell of a battle. Under the leadership of Eddie Jones England are starting to understand the potential housed in themselves as individuals and their team mates and the important thing now is that this belief doesn't crumble under the magnitude of the opening-Test in Brisbane.
England: 15. Mike Brown 14. Anthony Watson 13. Jonathan Joseph 12. Luther Burrell 11. Marland Yarde 10. Owen Farrell 9. Ben Youngs 1. Mako Vunipola 2. Dylan Hartley 3. Dan Cole 4. Maro Itoje 5. George Kruis 6. Chris Robshaw 7. James Haskell 8. Billy Vunipola Replacements: 16. Luke Cowan-Dickie 17. Matt Mullan 18. Paul Hill 19. Joe Launchbury 20. Courtney Lawes 21. Danny Care 22. George Ford 23. Jack Nowell
Australia: 15. Israel Folau 14. Dane Haylett-Petty 13. Tevita Kuridrani 12. Samu Kerevi 11. Rob Horne 10. Bernard Foley 9. Nick Phipps 1. Scott Sio 2. Stephen Moore (C) 3. Greg Holmes 4. Rory Arnold 5. Rob Simmons 6. Scott Fardy 7. Michael Hooper 8. David Pocock Replacements: 16. Tatafu Polota-Nau 17. James Slipper 18. Sekope Kepu 19. James Horwill 20. Dean Mumm 21. Sean McMahon 22. Nick Frisby 23. Christian Lealiifano
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