‘This is survival of the fittest. This is do or die. This is the winner takes it all.’ Liz Rodrigues of The New Royales opens Eminem’s smash-hit Survival with a perfect summarisation of where the England rugby team are right now.
On Saturday night they’ve a make-or-break game with destiny where the unthinkable is almost unspeakable.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. But the Red Rose are already playing knockout rugby. To win the Rugby World Cup, you have to beat the best. You face three gruelling win-or-bust games to prove to the planet you’re the best nation on earth. But it’s supposed to start at the quarter-final stage.
Following their disastrous defeat to old rivals Wales last weekend, Stuart Lancaster’s side know a loss to Australia at Twickenham on Saturday will see England become the first host nation to exit the Rugby World Cup at the pool stage. The Dragons have opened the door to doom and these England players will have never faced a more pressurised environment.
The Red Rose have been forced to field hoards of warranted criticism since last Saturday in the build-up to their date with the Wallabies.
Having been in control of the game against Wales after 50 minutes and boasting a 10-point lead, a lack of leadership, control, decision-making and discipline all played their part as Dan Biggar kicked the Dragons back into contention before the Welsh ran in a match-winning try.
Of course, Twickenham will be bouncing come kick-off time but there are now a few concerns regarding character and bottle surfacing. The squad are brooding but can those negatives be turned around and used to their advantage? Of course. Only, the chipper, confident and brash Australians are lying in wait to pile on the misery.
Michael Cheika’s worked wonders on the Wallabies pack and transformed the side from no-hopers into serious contenders for Rugby World Cup glory. Australia arrive as Rugby Championship winners and a have victory over the All Blacks in their back pocket just months ago.
They have playmakers and strike-runners all over the park, not to mention two of the most effective jackals in the business ready to wreak havoc at the breakdown.
The Wallabies were hit-and-miss in their opener against Fiji, failing to pick up a bonus point but their second string expectedly handed out a pasting to Uruguay. You get the feeling they’ve an exceptional performance in them but will we see it on Saturday or are they saving it for Wales next weekend? It’s an impossible question to answer. But what we do know is, they’re serious business.
England hold the upper hand in recent head-to-head duels. The Red Rose have won four of the last five including the previous two at rugby’s HQ – the most recent being back in November. But delve a little deeper and the Wallabies have actually claimed four victories from their past eight trips to London. Anyhow, the visitors will hold no fears about a trip to SW9 after seeing a patched-up Welsh side steal four points.
It’ll be tight, it’ll probably be bloody and it’ll be bruising and at times it’ll most certainly be ugly. England will attempt to stifle Australia at the set-piece, kick their goals and play confrontational rugby.
The Wallabies will look to cut loose and win the battle of the breakdown. It’ll also be very close – just one of the last seven clashes have been settled by more than 10 points – and for that reason it may pay to have a look at the Winning Margins.
England can be backed at 21/5 to come out on top in their biggest match since claiming Rugby World Cup gold in 2003 by 1-5 points. Despite protestations to the contrary, the value is with the host nation and Lancaster’s charges can live to fight another day by squeezing out their southern hemisphere foes on Saturday night.