Attacking ace Matt Giteau admits Australian training sessions have risen to ferocious heights this week as the Wallabies strive desperately to mend their battered reputation in England.
The Wallabies head into Saturday’s Twickenham blockbuster not only with an almighty point to prove after last year’s humiliating World Cup quarter-final loss to the Red Rose in Marseille, but also eager to improve one of the most appalling, and puzzling, away records in world rugby.
In the last five years, the Wallabies have only managed two paltry Test wins from 20 starts on the road against their Big Four rivals – New Zealand, South Africa, England and France, who, alongside Australia, traditionally occupy the top five places in the world rankings.
The Wallabies have ticked plenty of boxes in 2008 under new coach Robbie Deans, most notably scoring a home win over the top-ranked All Blacks and twin victories over the world champion Springboks, including their first success in South Africa in seven years.
But their strike rate against England and France – two teams they continually whip in Australia – has been pathetic on recent spring tours and the progression under Deans will be lost on fans if the Wallabies suffer more northern-hemisphere heartache this weekend.
Australia’s last away triumph over England or France came at Twickenham four years ago and Giteau today conceded the Wallabies were bent on acquiring a rare European scalp.
“It doesn’t get any bigger an occasion than playing England at Twickenham,” Giteau said.
“Even at training, the intensity and things like that – any drills, defensive drills – when you’re not supposed to be hitting hard, guys are still hitting hard.
“The intensity is right up there and everyone is really looking forward to this game.”
Veteran flanker Phil Waugh said victory was essential for the side’s international credibility.
“We need to perform here in the northern hemisphere. Once we do that, we can gain some respect,” Waugh said.
“Our last visit wasn’t a memorable one – it was memorable for all the wrong reasons – and obviously the World Cup last year was disappointing.”
For Al Baxter, the criticism of the Australian scrum has been personal, the Fleet Street press condemning the veteran tighthead as a weak cheat in two cutting articles.
Teammate Nathan Sharpe, one of six survivors from Marseille in the Wallabies starting side, suspects the savage attacks on Baxter may come back to haunt England.
“He’s ready to go,” Sharpe said.
“But he’s not going to do it on his own. All his mates around need to help him. That’s how we want to play this weekend, for each other.”
Sharpe is another stalwart anxious to notch a precious road win over England, having featured in the Wallabies’ 2003 World Cup final loss to the old enemy as well as the disastrous 2005 and 2007 defeats.
“There’s been a few disappointments, no doubt,” the 71-Test lock said.
“But the boys did a good job in Durban this year and shoved the gorilla off the back, so hopefully we can do the same thing over here.”
Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Hynes, Ryan Cross, Stirling Mortlock (capt), Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Luke Burgess, Richard Brown, George Smith, Hugh McMeniman, Nathan Sharpe, Mark Chisholm, Al Baxter, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Matt Dunning, Dean Mumm, Wycliff Palu, Sam Cordingley, Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane.
Delon Armitage, Paul Sackey, Jamie Noon, Riki Flutey, Ugo Monye, Danny Cipriani, Danny Care, Nick Easter, Tom Rees, Tom Croft, Tom Palmer, Steve Borthwick (capt), Phil Vickery, Lee Mears, Andrew Sheridan. Reserves: Dylan Hartley, Matt Stevens, Simon Shaw, James Haskell, Michael Lipman, Harry Ellis, Toby Flood.
Kick-off: 2.30pm (1.30am AEDT).