Australia v England: Eddie Jones’s band of bruisers must go to the well one final time

England are banking on physical approach to beat the Wallabies in third Test and end the longest season on a high.

England will be looking to punch holes in Australia’s defence with a physical approach to the series decider in Sydney. Picture: James Worsfold/Getty Images
England will be looking to punch holes in Australia’s defence with a physical approach to the series decider in Sydney. Picture: James Worsfold/Getty Images

Jamie George’s father, Ian, will not be alone this morning in throwing open the windows, turning on a fan and spending from dawn until dusk watching the longest rugby season in memory draw to a compelling conclusion, with Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland engaged in successive Test-series deciders across the southern hemisphere.

The narrative has not been kind to fans of the Nations Championship concept, the biennial global competition proposed to start in 2026 and replace these traditional three-Test tours. The home nations all lost their first games - England to Australia, Ireland to New Zealand, Wales to South Africa and Scotland to Argentina - but rebounded to make each series 1-1.

In doing so, Ireland and Wales made history by winning for the first time in New Zealand and South Africa respectively, all teeing up a day of high drama in high summer.

Australia and England will battle it out in the Test series decider at the SCG, following a Wallabies win in Perth and English win in Brisbane. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Australia and England will battle it out in the Test series decider at the SCG, following a Wallabies win in Perth and English win in Brisbane. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

“My old man won’t move all day,” George said in the lead-up to England’s decider at the Sydney Cricket Ground. “He will be parked up on the sofa with a cool box. My mum will be right next to him. They will be loving life.

“I chatted to Nick Tompkins [the Wales centre and George’s Saracens teammate] after Wales’s win and he was absolutely buzzing, as you can imagine. And I spoke to a few guys in the Ireland camp. It is brilliant what this is doing for the game all around the world, the battle between the northern and the southern hemisphere.

“I am really enjoying that side of it and hopefully we can do our bit to give a big tick for the northern hemisphere. How exciting is it to be in a 1-1 series?”

One last push, then. Freddie Steward has already played more than the agreed limit of 30 games in a season but nobody is going to pull him out of England’s showdown with the Wallabies.

Nowell and George will be a key part of England’s physical game plan. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images
Nowell and George will be a key part of England’s physical game plan. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images

Courtney Lawes, among the England players to have spent last summer on the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, agreed with the Rugby Players Association that game time needed to be managed more carefully. “But it’s not one to get into now,” the England captain added - and with good reason. To even acknowledge fatigue would be to open the door to an excuse. The England players have had every afternoon off on this tour, to help them stay energised mentally and physically.

“If the brain is willing, the body will follow,” Richard Cockerill, the forwards coach, said. “We came to win the series.” To do so, England need to take into the SCG a determination to go to the well one more time.

They got back into the series with a first half in Brisbane of relentless physicality and pressure, a combination of bulldozing carries and intelligent kicking that set them up for victory. The Wallabies, slow starters thus far, have been promising a violent response. “I know Australia have spoken about needing to up the physicality - well, that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Cockerill said. “We’re going to bring more physicality than last week because it puts us in the best position to win the game.

“We’ve got physicality in different ways all over the field. We’ll bring it as a collective. The sum of our parts is going to be our strength.”

Billy Vunipola has been at somewhere approaching his best in the first two Tests. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
Billy Vunipola has been at somewhere approaching his best in the first two Tests. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

England intend to be fast and furious. They are without Maro Itoje and Sam Underhill, two of their most physical forwards, but Billy Vunipola, Ellis Genge and Will Stuart are in prime form and capable of punching holes in the Australia defence. Ollie Chessum and Lewis Ludlam - who has won the admiration of Simon Poidevin, the former Australia flanker - come into the starting XV after making abrasive contributions from the bench. Jack Nowell, on the wing, continues to defy would-be tacklers. Danny Care is back at scrum half in the expectation of Paul Williams, the referee, being strict on players rolling away from the tackle and therefore encouraging quick ruck ball. It is a decision that also demonstrates a faith in Jack van Poortvliet’s ability to close out the game from the bench.

“Danny is going to be at his best when that ball is quick and we want him there at the start of the game,” Eddie Jones, the England head coach, said. “We want to speed the game up and he can speed the game up for us.

“JVP [Van Poortvliet] was magnificent last week and this series is going to go down to the last 20 minutes. He played with the aplomb of a 50-Test veteran and he’s got the skill set to close a game out or take a game forward. So we’ve just changed the roles.”

Jones at the Coogee Oval with Glen Ella, his former assistant coach with Australia and England. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images
Jones at the Coogee Oval with Glen Ella, his former assistant coach with Australia and England. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images

If England’s forwards can provide Care and Van Poortvliet with quick ruck ball, the focus will shift to whether Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell can open up the Wallabies defence. Creating and scoring tries has been an issue all year. They scored only eight in the Six Nations, five of which were against Italy. Other than when the first Test in Perth was already lost and Australia were down to 14 and then 13 men - when Henry Arundell and Van Poortvliet crossed late on - England have not been incisive enough, managing only two rolling-maul tries this tour. Australia have been far more ruthless.

The Wallabies are more depleted than England. Reece Hodge is their fifth-choice full back. Nick Frost makes his first Test start in the second row and Harry Wilson returns at blindside flanker. The most eye-catching selection is of Suliasi Vunivalu, the former NRL wing who is in line to make his Test debut from the bench.

With England training at the Coogee Oval, it has been an emotional homecoming week for Jones, catching up with former teammates at a club barbeque and pretending to pack down in a scrum with Joe Picone, his old front-row colleague at Randwick.

“King Eddie”, as he is known here, has been in his element. He attended a special reunion event at Coogee’s surf lifesaving club and was presented with one of his old Randwick jerseys in recognition of being inducted into the club’s hall of fame.

Lawes says his team are ready for one, final push after a long season. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images
Lawes says his team are ready for one, final push after a long season. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images

Poidevin handed over the green No 2 shirt and Jones was further touched to learn that it had been kept at the home of Jeff Sayle, his great friend and mentor, who died during the 2019 World Cup.

“It was pretty special,” Jones told Fox Sports, fighting to keep his emotions in check. “It was so thoughtful. It’s been fantastic being down at Randwick again; a great old club, some good memories, seeing some of the old players and Simon being around.”

The one person Jones is yet to catch up with is his mother, Nell. “She said, ‘Don’t come to see me until you have won the game,’ ” Jones explained. England have all the tools to do so. It promises to be quite the day of Test rugby - although for George Sr and for Jones, there is only one result that matters.

“We’re England,” Jones said. “I don’t work for the northern hemisphere. We stand by ourselves. We will make a statement.”

-The Times

Originally published as Australia v England: Eddie Jones’s band of bruisers must go to the well one final time