Four years after Australia’s surprise attack ejected England from the last World Cup, Ben Youngs has warned the Wallabies that the tables could be turned in Oita on Saturday.
Yesterday’s routine victory by Wales over Uruguay clinched first place in Pool D — and ensured that there will be an Ashes showdown in the quarter-finals here.
At Twickenham in 2015, the national team didn’t know what hit them as Australian wizardry condemned them to a 33-13 defeat which sealed a pool-stage exit from their own tournament.
Ben Youngs is one of the survivors from that grim ordeal and the Leicester scrum-half recalls a sense of shock in the English ranks after Bernard Foley had scored a second try for the visitors after stunning inter-play with Kurtley Beale.
‘That was one where they came up with a play we had never seen before — Foley comes around and plays back inside,’ said Youngs. ‘You think they are going to do one thing and they do something completely different. That’s why we have to be so on it against Australia this time.’
And Youngs warned that England can respond with some surprise attacks of their own.
‘Against USA and Tonga we kept it pretty low key,’ he said. ‘Against Argentina, we had a bit more in the playbook but again didn’t need to show our hand. We will make sure we are ready to go and have things we haven’t had to use yet.’
No England player has made as many Test appearances against Australia as Youngs, who has faced them 13 times. In fact, the 30-year-old has played against them more times than he has against any other nation. So he is as qualified as anyone to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Wallabies.
‘Australia are very clever in how they attack,’ said Youngs (below). ‘They always have a few things up their sleeve that you don’t expect so it is important that we prepare for that.
‘I like the way they play with an attacking mindset — and off the back of that you always get chances.
‘There’s a great rivalry, not just in rugby. Whenever you play the Aussies, you want to beat them if you are English and vice versa. It bodes well for a great game.’
England will be the clear favourites on the basis of recent history. Since Eddie Jones has been in charge, his team have beaten his compatriots six times out of six, including a 3-0 series whitewash Down Under in 2016.
But Youngs is wary of finding positive omens in those past glories, even though they are still fresh in the memory.
‘It’s important you don’t believe your own hype,’ he said. ‘We know that certain areas of our game are strong against them. It gives you belief but we have to make sure we stay level-headed and not think that what has happened before will be enough, because it won’t.’
Having had their final Pool C fixture against France called off due to the arrival of Typhoon Hagibis, England will go into the game on the back of a two-week break. But Youngs was adamant that the pre-tournament training programme and fixtures meant there is no danger that he and his team-mates will be under-cooked.
He opted to sidestep Michael Cheika’s jibe about a weight of expectation on the English to win, after being granted a long break. Australia’s head coach and Jones are former team-mates and regular sparring partners, and Youngs said: ‘I think him and Eddie will be quite entertaining throughout the week so I’ll leave it to those two!’
The rivals will be preparing from afar in the early part of this week, as the Wallabies are staying in Odawara, in the shadow of Mount Fuji. They are due to fly south on Wednesday.
England will step up their preparations when they move today to Beppu — near the host city of Oita — hoping that Billy Vunipola can recover from his twisted ankle in time for the last-eight clash. Jack Nowell is the other main injury doubt at this stage.