- England kick off their Summer Tour in Australia this Saturday
- Maro's versatility is a vital asset to the team
- Eddie Jones continues to demonstrate his ruthless streak
ENG XV v Australia: Brown, Watson, Joseph, Burrell, Yarde, Farrell, Youngs, Vunipola, Hartley(c), Cole, Itoje, Kruis, Robshaw, Vunipola, Haskell.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Mullan, Hill, Launchbury, Lawes, Care, Ford, Nowell.
Winning the mind games
I come from a more traditional, old school sporting background where you would never want to give the opposition any ammunition with which to bring your own team down, but with the likes of Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland, they love playing that game of trying to get one up on the opposition before a ball is kicked.
Over the course of the next two weeks there'll no doubt be some cracking soundbites from Eddie Jones, which will rile and excite various people. What it will do though, is distract the media and that can only help a team in their preparation so I'm sure the players like that style.
The Itoje factor
Given the talk this week of Maro Itoje playing at six, some people have been surprised to see him starting in the second row after all. Look at the bench though and you can see that both Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes feature which suggests when they come on, the young Saracens man will probably go to the back row.
You can look at this in two ways. You can have four back rowers on the field to begin with which is better than three but that means you have reduced line out presence. Chris Robshaw does line out work but he's not as good an option as the locks.
When you can bring on Joe and Courtney though, you've got the ability to bring Maro into the back row. That improves your line out options but perhaps gives you a little less impact around the park. That said, I've always thought Itoje was more of a six anyway. The physicality and athleticism he brings, he reminds me of a bulkier Tom Croft. It'll be interesting to see how the game goes and if the line out options work early on or not against an intelligent set of Australian line out operators.
The back row blend
The decision to move Itoje to the back row at any point will not be a straightforward one, particularly if all three of the back row are having a blinder.
It's nice that this back three of Robshaw, Haskell and Vunipola are getting some consistency now. For any unit to be really effective they need time together. The more consistently you perform together the more you understand each other. All those little idiosyncrasies of individual play you pick up on so much quicker.
That's so important against the likes of Fardy, Hooper and Pocock who as a trio are very strong. These three are growing together nicely, and after that World Cup pool game, they have a massive point to prove.
Eddie Jones has had his say this week about the failed Sam Burgess experiment but for Luther Burrell, it's great that following that disappointment he's kept his powder dry and worked hard for a chance to prove why he should have been in that World Cup set up.
Let's not forget that his partnership combination with Jonathan Joseph was a key part of an England team that scored eighteen tries in last year's Six Nations. If the midfield can recapture that sort of form then it'll be a huge boost for England.
The back three
There are a few questions over Alex Goode's absence from the matchday 23 and it reminds me of my old teammate Nick Abendanon who was the standout player for Bath year on year but he couldn’t work his way into the England team.
In an England shirt though, you cannot argue that Mike Brown is anything but brilliant. His target is clearly excellence when he trains. I remember the old Aussie coach Bob Dwyer saying “good players have good games and bad games, great players have good games and great games”. Brown is edging towards that statement.
It would have been nice to have seen Alex Goode included on the bench but that's the cut throat world of international sport. Eddie Jones isn’t shy of making tough decisions. He's had no problem dropping the in-form Jack Nowell and picking Marland Yarde ahead of him.
Yarde has been playing at a club that hasn’t been consistent this season but that doesn’t mean he isn’t deserving of his opportunity. That said you would argue that Jack Nowell doesn’t deserve to be dropped as what he offers the England side is really special. Marland needs a big game to keep that shirt by using his strength and physicality to get across that gainline, which is what will be expected of him, whether from a set piece move or in broken play.
It must grind on a lot of the Aussie players that rugby union is not the top sport in Australia. Because of that, they always have a point to prove and an axe to grind. It's always a tough place to go and play as they're so suited to playing on those firm pitches in the sunny conditions.
They make it very difficult for you to win and that's why historically only three England sides have ever gone and won in the 150 years we've been touring Australia.
They'll come out, they'll play hard and play a style of rugby designed to wear us down and tire us out. It's down to England to counter that with our own style of attacking rugby. It will take eighty minutes of focus and full concentration against some intelligent rugby players. They are not World Cup finalists out of fluke.