England will be eager to wrap up a perfect 2016 under Eddie Jones when they face a wounded Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.
The Wallabies are hurting for two reasons; one being after last week’s loss to Ireland and the other after falling 3-0 to England in June.
Ending with a successful revenge mission is the objective for the visitors but in England they take on a nation riding high at the moment.
Jones’ side are currently on a 13 game winning stretch in 2016 and even managed to see off Argentina last week with 14 men for 76 minutes.
It would be an incredible achievement to finish unbeaten, in fact a better word might be unthinkable after how England crashed out of the Rugby World Cup just over a year ago. There’s a huge amount of belief and intelligence in this squad at the moment that has to be admired.
Australia will no doubt feel buoyed by their opponents being without Billy Vunipola but in Nathan Hughes they have an excellent replacement at number eight. He is one of two changes to this week’s line-up for this Test finale with wing Marland Yarde in for Elliot Daly the other.
Meanwhile the Wallabies have freshened their XV after that Dublin loss as Kane Douglas, Lopeti Timani, Sefanaia Naivalu and Nick Phipps start, with boss Michael Cheika rallying his men for a win that would not only feel good but also take them second in the World Rankings.
Sealing what would be a shock win due to recent results against England would take some doing though and crucially a better start than they had at the Aviva Stadium. Not scoring a point in the first 39 minutes was unlike Australia and something they surely have addressed.
They showed plenty in the second half, however, but it’s hard to avoid the fatigue factor of such a long season for this group of players, which started way back in January for Super Rugby pre-season.
Contrast how the English are feeling and the majority of arrows point to a home victory that would secure an outstanding year, sending the Wallabies back Down Under with a fourth straight loss to their rival.
Players to watch:
For England: What an opportunity for Nathan Hughes this is at Twickenham as he starts in place of the injured Billy Vunipola. His form for Wasps has been superb over the past year and he’ll need to replicate that and give England go-forward, something Vunipola has done so well in June and November. With the Saracen set to miss the Six Nations this is a huge opportunity for Hughes to nail down the eight shirt.
For Australia: Eyes will be on centre Tevita Kuridrani on Saturday as he looks to score a try that would see him become the first Wallaby since Mark Ella in 1984 to cross against all of the home unions on tour. The Brumby is edging closer to looking back to his line-breaking best at the moment and must, like Israel Folau and Reece Hodge, bust this English defensive line if they are to pick up the victory.
Head-to-head: We go for the two skippers here as Dylan Hartley clashes with Stephen Moore. Hartley has been an impressive leader this year while Moore is set to become the second most capped Wallaby this weekend. Both know that any slip-ups with their set-piece will be scrutinised while around the field they must also stand up well along with making the right calls when it matters. The pressure is on.