Australia’s wish for an unbeaten European tour will be tested by England on the weekend, in the first tour match, which will be held in London.
The re-building Wallabies have had a poor season, so doubts will cloud the minds of players. Those doubts will sit uncomfortably beside the widely held, Australian assumption that the Wallabies will return home unbeaten, thus achieving the almost-mythic grand slam, for beating all four UK countries.
The opener against England on Saturday (Nov 2) will be difficult, on the field and off.
Usually called Twickenham or Twickers, the ground is used solely for rugby, is the home of the English union, the Rugby Football Union, and is often referred to as the home of rugby union.
Settlement at Twickenham dates back to 10,000BC, so it is steeped in English tradition. On Saturday, 82,000 fans will be “seated” in huge tiers around the ground, though the atmosphere is more friendly that confrontational.
The casual Australians care little for history or ceremony. But their perspective matters little as they will be immersed in both.
Former Test stalwart Nathan Sharpe has an enduring memory of Twickenham. He still feels the pain of sitting “through the three-hour, post-match function, having lost to England”.
Last year the Wallabies beat England 20-14 at Twickenham.
But since then the Wallabies have lost to the British and Irish Lions, changed coach, and played inconsistently in the Rugby Championship, finishing third behind New Zealand and South Africa.
The backs started to find form in the last two RC games, after struggling all year. There is little composure, though.
The only two players to have cemented their place are half-back Will Genia and fullback Israel Folau. Folau played international rugby league for Australia, before switching to rugby, after an unsuccessful stint playing Australian football (Aussie Rules).
He is a brilliant athlete, but a liability in defence, in that he doesn’t understand positional play.
Recalled flyhalf Quade Cooper has played his way back into form, after being recalled for the RC.
The problem is the forwards. The front row is inconsistent. The middle row is poor. The back row is disjointed. The line-outs are almost predictable. The scrum is a weakness.
England trails Australian in Test wins. But many external factors are playing into their hands. A wet London day would be the icing on the cake.
The Wallabies play little wet-weather rugby and are poor at playing for field position.
Coach Ewen McKenzie dismissed predictions of an unbeaten tour, saying such talk was premature.
“I’m not going to sit here and talk about Grand Slams,” he said. “I don’t sit here comfortably … far from it. I’m continually anxious.”
All Blacks vs Japan
Meanwhile, the All Blacks begin their northern tour by playing Japan in Tokyo also on Saturday.
Japan coach Eddie Jones has been taken out from intensive care following a stroke.
“My apologies for causing such concern prior to the All Blacks game …”, Jones said. He has coached Australia, and was assistant to Jake White when South Africa won the World Cup.
The All Blacks were taking the game seriously, despite Japan being ranked 15—the All Blacks are ranked 1.
Flyhalf Dan Carter said: “I think Japanese rugby is on a high at the moment. The club competition is very strong and they had a couple of great Test matches against Wales.
“You know, they beat Wales in the last Test match, so we have to make sure we do our homework on the Japan side …”
Peter Lalanabaravi is a rugby writer with over 30 years experience.