A time-honored stadium which first hosted a test cricket match in 1882 will be the venue for the deciding match between two old rugby foes with a near-similar vintage.
The Sydney Cricket Ground will host a rugby test for the first time since 1986 when Australia plays England in the deciding third match of the series on Saturday. The SCG was secured for the match because the nearby Sydney Football Stadium — most often used by the Wallabies for their test matches — was undergoing renovations.
Since 1909, England and Australia have played each other 54 times in rugby, with England leading the series 27-26, with one match drawn. The SCG was also the site of a season-opening Major League Baseball series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks in March, 2014.
Wallabies captain Michael Hooper grew up on Sydney’s northern beaches and has watched cricket and other sports at the stadium. He says the Wallabies will be looking to increase their physical play against England and put their stamp on the game early in the deciding match.
“We’ve been able to sustain a lot of pressure and come back into the game from being behind and we want to flip that obviously,” Hooper said Friday. “To come out with good momentum and stack it on and put these guys under pressure. They (England) did a great job last week doing that to us and we’re wanting to change that route.”
Australia won the first match 30-28 at Perth on July 2 before England leveled the series in Brisbane last weekend with a dominating 25-17 win. An expected sellout crowd of 48,000 is expected at the SCG on Saturday.
Queensland Reds backrower Harry Wilson was one of four changes to Australia’s starting XV for the match, with Reece Hodge returning at fullback, lock Nick Frost picked to make his starting debut and veteran James Slipper returning at loosehead prop.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said Wilson deserved his spot after weeks of pushing hard for selection.
“It’s been a pretty brutal series so far, as injuries on both sides will tell us,” Rennie said. “So Harry is fresh, ready to go, and keen to rip in.”
England coach Eddie Jones made three changes to his starting lineup, with two changes enforced by head injuries to lock Maro Itoje and flanker Sam Underhill.
Ollie Chessum moved into the second row to start a test for the first time and Lewis Ludlam replaced Underhill on the side of the scrum in the lineup announced Thursday by Jones. Danny Care returned to start at scrumhalf, relegating Jack van Poortvliet to the bench.
“It’s a young, inexperienced but together group who have developed well throughout this series,” Jones said of his 23-man match squad. “We want to play with purpose and energy to win the series and an historic test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.”
After a month-long stay Down Under, the Australian-born Jones, it seems, couldn’t resist one last opportunity to criticize the Wallabies before heading back to England. His remarks had nothing to do with what they’ve done on the field, but for what he says they’ve failed to do off it.
The Australians only flew into Sydney from their Gold Coast camp in Queensland state on Thursday and Jones said the Wallabies could have done more to help promote the deciding game. The Australians set up a so-called Camp Wallaby, first on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane, then on the Gold Coast, to assist in team unity and bonding.
“I’ve been disappointed in the media coverage,” Jones told Australian Associated Press. “There’s always a battle with NRL (National Rugby League) and AFL (Australian Football League — Australian rules football), isn’t it? We know that. We need rugby to be bit more prominent and I think we’re doing our bit.”
Jones said he’d been to a charity lunch and did some community coaching this week in Sydney.
“We’re trying to build the game up — a one-all decider,” Jones said. “There’s got to be equal effort from the other team, too.”
Australia: Reece Hodge, Tom Wright, Hunter Paisami, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Noah Lolesio, Nic White; Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (captain), Harry Wilson, Matt Philip, Nick Frost, Taniela Tupou, David Porecki, James Slipper. Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, Angus Bell, Allan Alaalatoa, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Len Ikitau, Suliasi Vunivalu.
England: Freddie Steward, Jack Nowell, Guy Porter, Owen Farrell, Tommy Freeman, Marcus Smith, Danny Care; Billy Vunipola, Lewis Ludlam, Courtney Lawes (captain), Jonny Hill, Ollie Chessum, Will Stuart, Jamie George, Ellis Genge. Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Joe Heyes, Nick Isiekwe, Jack Willis, Jack van Poortvliet, Will Joseph, Henry Arundell.