Rugby Union

Australia and England combined XV

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Eddie Jones has returned to his homeland to lead his English side in a three-test tour against the side who caused World Cup heartbreak less than 12 months ago.

England, off the back of a first grand slam in 13 years have a lot of confidence. The Wallabies, however, are not riding so high.

The Australian contingent in Super 15 have been underwhelming, not to mention Michael Cheika's admission a few months ago that he may be forced to rest some of his European-based stars. That said, the Green-and-Golds reached the World Cup final back in October, easily sweeping aside a very similarly staffed England in the process.


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Confidence is one thing, but quality is another. Who makes our combined XV?

1) Loosehead Prop

Scott Sio

A tough one to start off with. The already withdrawn Joe Marler is a better defender and scrummager, despite his suspect angle. Many question his technique but when he does it correctly it can be devastating.

However, under the tutelage of Argentina legend Mario Ledesma, Australia have vastly improved at scrum time.

In the build-up to these team's last meeting at the RWC, the scrum was billed as an area of dominance for England - it wasn't. Sio started that match and was greatly missed when injured against Argentina so for his underrated influence, the Brumbies man gets the nod.

2) Hooker

Dylan Hartley (C)

Stephen Moore is a worthy candidate, having led his team to a World Cup final and claiming the Rugby Championship last year.

But this one goes to the Northampton man, his strengths at the set-piece are unquestionable. The hole Hartley left in England's pack at the RWC was fatal to their campaign. Tom Youngs was nowhere near the same standard and with Hartley back, England claimed a Six Nations title after three years of near-misses. He has even got his discipline in check since being made captain. For this reason, he will wear the (figurative) armband for our combined team.

3) Tighthead Prop

Sekope Kepu

Kepu was one of those who Cheika had hinted towards resting for this series but has still been included in their squad. Dan Cole is a fine scrummager and he even grabs a few steals every now and again, which in a prop is nothing to scoff at.

His discipline lets him down, though. Too many penalties are given away by the Leicester Tigers player which at international level can be very costly.

As with his teammate Scott Sio, Kepu has improved at scrum-time under Mario Ledesma. Even if we could question the legality of the techniques the Wallabies utilise, which we could, they still get away with it. In rugby, if you can get away with it then you shouldn't complain, just do it yourself.

Also, if you have any doubts over Kepu's credentials, look up some of his highlights. Any prop that good in the loose is hard to overlook.

4) Second Row/Lock

This one could have gone to Kane Douglas, but the Reds player is still out injured from his ACL injury suffered last year. His defensive performances, especially against Wales, were exceptional prior to his layoff but the award has to go to someone else. And that someone is...

George Kruis

The Saracen should have been given the man-of-the-match award in England's final Six Nations game in Paris. The boy was everywhere. Tackles, carries, steals, you name it. England's lineout strength over the course of the tournament was a cornerstone of their eventual success. The fact that his ascension to starting berth has demoted the likes of Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury speaks volumes.

5) Second Row/Lock

Maro Itoje

This guy may be young, but he has talent. England went back to the old ways this year, with traditionally strong forward play the starting position for all the good in their performances.

Very strong lineout operator and can make a break or two. The young Saracen is even known to dabble in a little fetching. The Wallabies have some of their own quality locks in Rob Simmons and Dean Mumm, but sides with the current line out quality at England's disposal are tough to beat. The trio of Hartley as thrower and Itoje and Kruis as jumpers is the strongest available from the two nations.

6) Blindside Flanker

Scott Fardy

Australia had the best fetching back row at the World Cup, with Michael Hooper and David Pocock gathering all the headlines. Fardy was the unsung hero of that unit, getting criminally little plaudits for some amazing displays.

The Brumbies man gets through a tremendous amount of work that most won't notice and even grabs a few steals as well. Both James Haskell and Chris Robshaw played out of their skin for England this year, but the Wallabies take this one. Fardy can also play at lock, a nice option at flanker because it gives yet more options at the line-out.

7) Openside Flanker

David Pocock

Although the recent statement was that Australia had the best fetching back row at last year's World Cup in which, Pocock played at number eight. This does not mean it was the best back row overall, however. New Zealand proved that balance is key. McCaw as the jackal, Kaino as the battering ram/workhorse and Read as the attacking force is superior.

Pocock is the best seven in the world, so why not play him there? Michael Hooper has not been in the best form of late either, so it is a fairly straightforward selection.

8) Number Eight

Billy Vunipola

Big Billy was the other reason why the decision for openside was easy. The Saracens forward was epic in the Six Nations, proving a handful for every defence. With the workhorse qualities of Fardy, the over-the-ball invincibility of Pocock and the crashing runs of Vunipola, you have a pretty potent back row. Not to mention a pack that is half-decent at scrummaging and infallible at the lineout.

Vunipola gets the Eight shirt because he can crash through the defence, but also draw the eye of all defenders. If it takes two guys to bring him down, then one guy is free somewhere. Vunipola as a decoy runner is just as devastating as Vunipola with the ball. The man is a guaranteed overlap-making machine. He has to be involved.

9) Scrum-half

Ben Youngs

The Leicester captain was very good over the Six Nations and when he is playing well he can single-handedly galvanise a team. The position could easily go to Will Genia and it probably would if he were not one of the players Cheika has decided not to select. Nick Phipps pushes this close, but Youngs' performances in the Six Nations, his sniping runs and good quality box-kicking earn him a place.

10) Fly-half

Bernard Foley

This was probably the toughest choice. Owen Farrell is worthy of the place, because of his defensive qualities, metronomic kicking and game management. He has also added a little bit of attacking spark this season, but his discipline can let him down.

George Ford is the better attacker, but is not as strong with the boot. Foley is arguably not equal to either Englishman's strengths, but he can do both very well. A small man, but he makes his tackles. Not the best attacking 10 in the world, but he cut England into ribbons during the World Cup. He also had nerves of steel to knock over that (incorrect) penalty against Scotland. Foley gets it.

11) Left Wing

Rob Horne

This would absolutely, unequivocally go to Drew Mitchell were he picked. Unfortunately, his absence leaves us with Rob Horne or Jack Nowell. Nowell's work-rate and skill are commendable, but Horne gets the nod.

12) Inside Centre

Luther Burrell

The human wrecking ball that is Manu Tuilagi was always in with a shout if he fit but once again his proneness to injury has let him down. His replacement Burrell showed just the depth England possess at centre with a great performance against Wales and shows that he can be a big influence over the course of the series.

13) Outside Centre

Jonathan Joseph

Tevita Kuridrani is up for consideration here, but Joseph offers something different. In all fairness, Adam Ashley-Cooper - the utility back - would go here but again he will not feature.

Ashley-Cooper would go at 13 because that is where he has played his club rugby for Bordeaux, but he would also be a starter at wing he is that good. But alas, the Aussie is not in contention and Joseph is the best of the rest.

14) Right Wing

Anthony Watson

The Bath winger is a lethal finisher, is effective defensively and is good in the air. A former coach once said: "he could step you in a phone box". Watch his score against France in the World Cup warm-ups and you'll see video evidence of his agility.

15) Full Back

Israel Folau

The fact that this was so easy is a testament to how good Folau is. Mike Brown is a very good full back, dependable and always seems to beat the first tackle. But Folau is among the best in the world. Simple choice really.

Final Results:

Australia - 7

England - 8

The northern hemisphere edges it, but if both sides offered a full compliment it would be far more lop-sided. Even though they have confidence and a bit of momentum from that grand slam victory, England would be beaten by Australia's first XV.

The fact that this is so close without including some of Australia's biggest stars shows that England has a way to go yet. They are a young side, though and Australia won't be fielding their best team so the men-in-white may just have a chance Down Under.

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Jonny Wilkinson
Owen Farrell
England Rugby
Rugby Union
Australia Rugby
IRB Rugby World Cup

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