- 3 Oct 07, 03:43 PM
Paris - England coach Brian Ashton sprung a few surprises when he announced his team for Saturday’s quarter-final showdown against Australia in Marseille.
And the message he has sent out to the Wallabies is a simple one – we want to bully you at scrum time.
In recalling skipper and tight-head prop Phil Vickery and hooker Mark Regan for England's biggest game since the 2003 World Cup final, Ashton obviously believes he has selected a front row that can now dominate the scrum - an area that has given the Wallabies numerous headaches in recent times.
In November 2005, Andrew Sheridan and Vickery were the props as England’s front row battered the Aussies into submission at Twickenham, leaving the Wallaby scrum going backwards at a rate of knots.
The Wallaby scrum has improved since then so is it a case of Ashton putting all his tactical eggs into one basket? He would argue that he is simply picking a team that can exploit a perceived weakness and give his side an attacking platform, but in going with Vickery and Regan, Ashton has dispensed with two in-form players.
Matt Stevens and George Chuter are the pair in question and no-one would blame them if they felt a wee bit aggrieved at missing out.
Chuter’s throwing to the line-out has been impressive. He only missed one of his jumpers against Tonga, while Stevens has been an energetic and mobile force around the pitch as well as being able to put the squeeze on at the set piece.
That plan may work and England may get the set-piece dominance they so desperately require, but retaining possession and getting quick ball is another matter entirely. Subsequently, the back-row must be an area of concern for England fans.
Ashton has decided to retain Martin Corry on the blind-side, Lewis Moody on the open-side, with Nick Easter at number eight. And he has resisted calling on the lively Tom Rees, England's only out-and-out open-side, despite being fit. Rees has been left out of the match-day 22 completely.
Moody certainly made his presence felt in his first start of the World Cup against Tonga but although there is no doubting his ability to get to the breakdown quickly, England have looked slow to follow him – leaving him isolated and exposed.
On the 2001 Lions tour to Australia, the then skipper Martin Johnson told his players at half-time of the first Test that “if we stop George Smith, we win the game”.
Six years later, Australia’s aggressive and agile number seven - assisted by back-row colleagues Rocky Elsom and Wycliff Palu - remains a dominant force and England’s back-row know they will have a tough time in containing him if they are not quick and ferocious at the breakdown.
And then there is also the return of a certain Andy Farrell - and what a stink that has caused.
The Rugby Football Union's expensive rugby league convert disappeared from the starting line-up following the South African debacle but after England’s midfield against Tonga was found wanting defensively, Ashton has turned again to Farrell in order to add direct running, a physical presence as well as some “leadership” to the back-line.
The Saracens inside centre, who convinced Ashton of his selection when powering his way through the Tongan defence for a try after coming on as a substitute, has been called upon to halt the charges of both Matt Giteau and Stirling Mortlock and will need to be right on his game if he is to prevent those star turns from causing merry hell.
And his inclusion has not gone down at all well in certain quarters. England's World Cup winning scrum-half Matt Dawson for one questioned his decision-making ability when the heat is on.
"I can't grasp what Andy Farrell has done to warrant being brought into the side," he told BBC Radio 5live. "Yes, he scored a try against a tiring Tongan side. Fantastic, well done. In pressure games, against Ireland at Croke Park and against South Africa at Stade de France a couple of weeks ago, he was found wanting. So to bring him back into the biggest game England have had for four years, I do have to question."
Another notable inclusion is that of Jason Robinson, who looked for all the world to be heading into retirement when he pulled up clutching his hamstring against South Africa.
His selection at full-back will not be welcomed by the Australians, whose wing Lote Tuqiri earlier this week said he was "the only world-class back England have playing in form at the moment".
Aussie full-back Chris Latham, meanwhile, will not need reminding that he was the man skinned by Robinson on the outside when the Lions won that Test in Brisbane.
Our very own "Billy Whizz" may have lost a yard of pace since then and certain teams may have worked out how to defend against him from deep, but he has looked like one of England's most dangerous backs at this year's World Cup.
England head into Saturday's contest in a positive frame of mind following two straight wins but they are still massive underdogs against the Wallabies. The odds are stacked against them but if they can get it right, you never know, they might just do it.
Mark Orlovac is a BBC Sport journalist based in London. He will be based in Paris for the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup.