England can beat Australia if they check Hooper and Pocock, says James Forrester
Contain Wallaby fetchers Hooper and Pocock, and England can win crunch tie
ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA
(Tomorrow, 3am, Singtel TV Ch 115 & StarHub TV Ch 209 - FOX Sports 2)
COMMENT by JAMES FORRESTER
There is one man, in particular, in the English set-up who would have had a very big job over the course of the week as the hosts prepared for the crunch clash against Australia at Twickenham tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
And it might not be who you would have thought of.
The person I am referring to is Bill Beswick, the England team psychologist, who has worked with several football teams, been by the side of former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and is now paired up with England rugby coach Stuart Lancaster.
England wasted a tremendous opportunity to take control of Pool A at the Rugby World Cup in that thrilling loss to Wales last Saturday.
Another defeat by the tournament darkhorses will almost certainly mean a calamitous exit in the first round of the tournament they were hoping to win in front of their own fans. That would make England the first hosts to be knocked out of the group stages of a World Cup.
They were in control and they blew it against the Welsh in their own backyard at a home World Cup and that would have hurt… a lot.
But I believe if England can start well and contain the Wallabies' flankers Michael Hooper and David Pocock, then they will win.
There is too much at stake for the hosts and I expect a huge reaction from the players after the heartbreaking defeat by Wales.
Australia will also know they can still qualify if they beat Wales (and they always do) next week.
There is no doubt, though, that the pressure on England can wear on the players and make them shrink.
It will be Beswick's job, along with Lancaster and his assistants, and the senior players as well, to try and relieve that pressure and focus on the job at hand.
England will be focusing very much on the positives, they played very well for 65 minutes against Wales, and remain a good side with an excellent recent record against Australia.
They can look back at the last time they played Australia at Twickenham last November, when they won 26-17, with the forwards, in particular, on top - bullying the opposition into submission.
A lot of the chat coming out of the England camp this week has centred on the scrum and maul.
One boost for the English was the news that Wallaby giant Will Skelton has been ruled out of the tournament because of injury.
I believe Skelton would have started against England, because if you expect to struggle at scrum time and you have a weakness in your front row, then one "quick fix" is to insert a 140kg monster in your second row to secure the particular area.
Skelton's ability to kill driving mauls and also carry the ball will be a big loss to Australia.
I have to say that this Australia side are much improved from 12 months ago and that's down to the impressive head coach Michael Cheika.
He has raised the ferocity level while also making them better at the set-piece, and they have a top-class backline with the best fullback in the world in Israel Folau.
But England's biggest threat will come from the back-row combination of Hooper and Pocock.
Both are outstanding at stealing the ball, Pocock is exceptionally strong and probably the best poacher in the world. Hooper is good at it, too, and they will double up to try and cause England a lot of problems.
One way I believe England have tried to counter this is with the inclusion of the lock Joe Launchbury.
Essentially, the likes of captain Chris Robshaw and Launchbury will look to target Pocock at the first ruck, but where it gets complicated is when you get into phases after that when he is roaming in open play looking for opportunities to get on the ball.
England are desperate, Australia are not. If the hosts don't start well, then I think the longer the game goes on with the scoreline close, the more panic will set into the England team, who are still a relatively inexperienced side.
I expect England to win but, if they don't, then there will be a lot of finger pointing in the corridors of the Rugby Football Union over the next few weeks, and that's always a lot of fun.
- James Forrester is a former No. 8 for Gloucester Rugby and an England international. He is now head coach of Wanderers RFC, one of Singapore's leading rugby and netball clubs.
BY THE NUMBERS
England have won four out of their last five games against Australia, including their last two matches.
10 million pounds
Bookmaker William Hill predicts that the clash between England and Australia will generate over £10m (21.8m) in wagers, the most ever for a rugby match.
"England feel like they have let their fans and themselves down. For England, it’s absolutely knockout rugby, they’ve got to treat this like a World Cup Final."
— Former England coach and World Cup-winning captain Lawrence Dallaglio