Australian hooker Cameron Smith believes England will be wasting their time trying to take advantage of halfback Johnathan Thurston’s dodgy shoulders in Sunday night’s World Cup clash at Telstra Dome.
Thurston trained strongly in Saturday’s final training session, coach Ricky Stuart saying he was extremely confident his chief playmaker would be fit to play in match that should determine which team goes into the semi-finals with the No.1 seeding.
Man of the match against the Kiwis last weekend, Thurston has been limited to light duties this week after picking up a knock to his shoulder late in the contest.
On Friday the England camp singled out Thurston as a potential weak link in Australia’s defensive line as they looked to take some of the defensive spotlight off their own No.7, pint-sized Leeds halfback Rob Burrow.
Smith said England would be derelict in their duties by not sending plenty of traffic Thurston’s way tomorrow night, but denied the Kangaroos had altered their defensive strategy to compensate.
“I don’t think it’s a secret, I think everyone knows that he pulled up a bit sore after last week’s game,” Smith said.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’ve got a bung shoulder it’s going to be tested.
“He’s a tough character and he’s played with injuries before.
“I think Johnathan’s proven his worth in defence in past games and he’s a very capable defender, every game he plays he gets a workout in defence but he certainly does a very good job every time.
“We’re not worried about it and Johnathan’s not as well.”
Stuart said he would most likely leave it up to Thurston to make a call on his fitness tomorrow, Smith saying the squad was prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“We’ve had Scotty Prince in there during training as well in case things like this happen – it’s a long tournament, injuries happen and unfortunately we had a little one in the first game with Johnathan,” Smith said.
“If Johnathan isn’t there then we’re confident that Scotty will do a great job for us but at the moment our No.7 is Johnathan.”
With both teams having secured first-up wins in the tournament, tomorrow night’s match should have little bearing on each nation’s semi-final qualification.
What is up for grabs is top spot in the group, though England would still need to beat New Zealand next weekend to secure top spot should they upset the Kangaroos on Sunday.
The benefit of top spot is an easier semi-final draw, with the No.1 seed to play the winner of the semi-final qualification game between the winners of pools two and three.
More than 30,000 tickets have already been sold for the contest with the forecast for showers throughout the day unlikely to affect proceedings given the match will be played under a closed roof.