Australia coach Michael Cheika insists his side are the underdogs for Saturday’s pivotal Pool A clash at Twickenham despite England staring down the barrel of World Cup elimination following their calamitous defeat to Wales.
Cheika’s preparations were dealt a blow yesterday after experienced No8 Wycliff Palu and giant second row Will Skelton were ruled out of the remainder of the tournament through injury. Lock Sam Carter and hooker James Hanson have been called-up.
Should Wales beat Fiji tomorrow and Australia prevail at Twickenham this weekend, England will be knocked out of the tournament and command the stigma of the worst-performing hosts in World Cup history.
Never before has the host nation failed to emerge from the group stage, although Cheika fully expects a reaction from under-pressure England and a powerful response to their 28-25 surrender against Wales.
“You’d have to think we’re still underdogs, playing in their backyard,” said Cheika. “I was talking to some of the lads the other day, when the thunder starts at Twickenham, you’ve got to be ready for it.
“They’ve been very successful at that ground, so it’s just about being ready to be yourself and play our way, and play the best we can and let the cards fall as they may.
“Every team’s got the ability to bounce back, that’s the joy of rugby. We’re more than aware of that because we’ve been in similar positions. I’m sure they’ll believe strongly they’ll beat us and I’m sure that’s all that counts.”
Saturday’s tussle is a potentially era-defining showdown for England and their head coach Stuart Lancaster, while Cheika – appointed Australia boss in October 2014 – was happy to taunt his counterpart over the three years that he has had to prepare for the tournament.
“We’re coming from a fair way back, we’ve got a relatively inexperienced coaching staff at international level, we’re all pretty much babies at it,” added Cheika. “They’ve had a long time together, and planning this.”