For what it is worth, the Wallabies are the favorites to beat England in the first Test on Saturday week: the punters just don’t like Eddie Jones’ side.
It’s easy to understand the rationale. Coming off a poor Six Nations, their tour to Australia was hit by a series of injury withdrawals before they could even leave the Heathrow tarmac.
Jones will be loving this. With England unfancied, his motivational task is already half done, and he has been busy stirring the pot. Hilariously, the fact his players had to catch several flights out of London to ensure they all had business class seats was even described as a ‘further complication’ in the English press.
“We can’t complain because the boys all fly business but we can’t all get on the same plane,” Jones was reported as saying, surely trying to keep a straight face.
Don’t buy into it. Yes, some of the injuries clearly hurt, particularly the loss of tighthead prop Kyle Sinckler, while the absence of Ben Youngs at halfback means the Wallabies will not have to contend with an opponent who has hurt them repeatedly.
However, if you fight your way through all the smokescreens, it’s fairly easy to find a core of hardened, experienced and high-quality English players around whom their game will revolve.
Take the pack for example. Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Mako Vunipola. They will all be at different points with their form, and niggling injuries, but is anyone seriously trying to spin a line that they represent anything less than a significant challenge to the Wallabies forwards?
No matter what happened in the Six Nations, this is a group of players who know their way around Test rugby, and what’s required. Billy Vunipola’s recall is particularly interesting. England have effectively brought three No.7s with them – Curry, Underhill and Jack Willis – so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Curry named at No.8 in the Perth Test, but Billy Vunipola has the potential to be a complete wrecking ball off the bench.