The 'pool of death' at the rugby World Cup looks a lot murkier now than it did after 40 minutes of the England vs Wales match on Saturday evening.
With England 10 points clear and seemingly in control of the contest, few would have expected the turnaround in fortunes that would leave the host nation dicing with elimination from their tournament at the group stage.
Wales now look set to qualify with just the potential banana-skin match against Fiji before taking on the Australians.
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With controversy stirred in his selection of Owen Farrell in place of George Ford, England coach Stuart Lancaster has some soul-searching to be done in terms of his battle-plan for the Australians - who will present a sterner challenge even than the Welsh offered on Saturday.
The traditional approach for the English against the Aussies would be to use the dominance of the pack to lay the foundations for victory. However, the resurgence of the Australian scrum under the stewardship of Michael Cheika presents a hefty challenge for Lancaster’s charges.
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Added to the fact that the once unbeatable English pack seems to have peaked a couple of years ago, the dominance we have formerly relied upon would appear to have deserted the boys in white.
If we count them on parity at set-piece, then the next obstacle(s) that the English will have to counter is the back row pair of natural opensides in David Pocock and Michael Hooper – if selected together once more, then England’s skipper Chris Robshaw may have another tough evening at the office.
Lancaster must also decide which is his best back-line – having tactically omitted Ford, does he now bring the main play-maker back into the fold and look to go for an expansive backline or does he stick with the line that seemed to be working for nearly an hour on Saturday evening?
The Australians have a wealth of talent in their backline and the choice must be whether to attempt to meet fire with fire in terms of an attacking outlook, or to attempt to contain their runners by going with the big defenders as they attempted against Wales.
The one thing that the Australians have less of in terms of their backs is bulk, so Lancaster may consider the options of better runners more than the power players, though historically, it has tended to be through power that England have triumphed over Australia.
One thing is for certain – having said he expected his selection to be scrutinised last week, the pressure will be even more heavy on the shoulders of the England coach. He must ensure that England have a plan A that will able to get the job done, or a very astute Plan B in his locker should the need arise.
Knock-out rugby has arrived early for the English camp!
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