The headlines have come in the backline, writes Charlie Talbot-Smith
Eddie Jones' seemingly conservative approach for the Wallabies, restoring Owen Farrell to the No.10 shirt and shifting Manu Tuilagi to inside centre, have certainly set tongues wagging in Oita.
But there is nothing cautious about the picks in the back row, where England’s head coach is willing to risk it all on a couple of young bucks.
There really is so much to love about this flanker face-off as Sam Underhill and Tom Curry, at a combined age of only 44 and with only 28 caps between them, take on David Pocock and Michael Hooper with a World Cup semi-final spot on the line. Here, the headlines write themselves.
'Youth vs Experience', 'Pooper vs Cunderhill', 'The Kamikaze Kids vs Their Childhood Heroes', the list goes on...
These two Wallaby greats have a staggering 180 Test caps between them, and have featured at a combined three World Cups already.
Pocock and Hooper have faced off against England 17 times, Underhill and Curry just the once.
When it comes to experience, there is only one winner on Saturday.
And Underhill knows that: "You always want to challenge yourself against the best in the world and it is fair to say there are two world-class opensides. They are players that I am sure Tom and I growing up looked at and aspired to be like and so it is a bit surreal to be coming up against them now. I am massively looking forward to it."
And their skillsets, as well as their age brackets, are contrasting.
ICYMI | Eddie Jones has named his side to face Australia in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup in Oita on Saturday.— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) October 17, 2019
📺 815am BST, ITV
📝Read more: https://t.co/lL0w7lHoXf#CarryThemHome🌹 #RWC2019 #ENGvAUS pic.twitter.com/LF5AhPNqut
Pocock is the turnover machine while Hooper carries like a Duracell bunny.
Curry and Underhill meanwhile are the tackling titans, no slouches at the breakdown of course, but two fledgling flankers with youth and enthusiasm on their side who will hit rucks all day long.
Throw in Curry’s increasing lineout skills as England’s third jumper and the match-up gets even more mouth-watering.
But when it comes down to it, it is just about who gets the hit in first – according to Curry.
"It’s why we like the game and it is probably hard to explain to your Mum,” he said.
“It is brilliant and you cannot get it any other walk of life. Part of the reason I love the game is the attrition and getting yourself mentally fresh and prepared, and it takes six or seven days to get ready."
Underhill, who Jones this week called the most combative flanker he has seen in a long time, assents: “You don’t want to give them space, the only space they can take is space that you give them. If you take that away you will have an easier contest, if you don’t you will have a more difficult contest.
"Technically they are both very good over the ball. Pocock is probably the best in the world in terms of how strong he is, and his body position. On top of that they have good timing. I think timing is probably the most important of the two.”
Michael Cheika’s double openside selection policy set the trend in the last World Cup cycle, and finally the rest of the world have caught up.
"We need to defend with brutality and when we have the ball we need play on top of them.”— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) October 17, 2019
Eddie on his team selection for the RWC quarter-final against Australia.#CarryThemHome #RWC2019 #AUSvENG pic.twitter.com/653mr7fKAt
Even the All Blacks – so often the trailblazers – are following suit, and England have finally joined the party.
It was only in August of this year that Curry and Underhill were first paired together. Although, truth be told, injuries have kept the two apart for much of the last two seasons in the international arena.
But why has Jones turned to his twin destroyers now?
Undoubtedly refereeing changes in the last year allowing more of a contest at the breakdown have played a role.
Yet for Jones the answer is even simpler: “Our two young boys are just getting better every game,” is the typically pithy response.
Undoubtedly this is a seismic shift for England from the not-so-distant days of Chris Robshaw and James Haskell.
Then they were the two six-and-a-halves who bashed the Wallabies into submission Down Under on the back of a Grand Slam – a run that remains the sustained high watermark of the Jones reign.
Haskell and Robshaw have since been jettisoned for these fresher faces.
But will it be age before beauty this weekend then as Jones puts his faith in youth? According to Underhill, there’s nothing that beautiful to be found here.
"It is a physical position and one that is not the most glamorous,” he added.
"It is pretty gritty and you have to enjoy that and the guy scoring out wide is usually because someone has done something in the middle that is fairly dull to watch but creates special moments in the game."
And so here we are, back full circle. The backs get the headlines, but the forwards put the work in.
Will the graft gain the reward this weekend? Curry certainly hopes so: “We spoke about what Pooper (Hooper and Pocock) did at the World Cup in 2015, the amount of turnovers. It has been reduced since then, especially when England play Australia. It will be no different this weekend. You’ve got out every week first and foremost for the team, but to beat your opposite man."
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