‘We won’t be baited’: Australia want to avoid being wound up by England

Australia expect England to continue off-the-ball antics in Saturday’s deciding Test in Sydney with the scrum-half Nic White revealing he has been taken aback by the level of wind-up tactics employed in the previous two matches.

White, formerly of Exeter, was pinned to the ground by Ellis Genge in the second Test in Brisbane. Australia were awarded a penalty but White was evidently unhappy at how Genge had put his elbow into his face. Genge was also seen goading the Wallabies captain, Michael Hooper, by slapping him on the chest three times after Billy Vunipola’s early try.

In the first Test, the Wallabies second-row Darcy Swain was sent off for headbutting Jonny Hill after the lock had pulled his hair and pushed him in the face. Despite those incidents, the England captain, Courtney Lawes, insisted there was no coordinated plan to get under the skin of the opposition.

“[I’m] a little bit surprised [by the amount of niggle] but it is two teams going at it,” said White. “We will expect the same this weekend, them coming after us. It is just part of the game. We would look to start the game more physically up front but we won’t be baited into that off-the-ball stuff. We will leave that to those boys.

“Ellis has that in his game. We are two guys who know each other from playing in the Premiership. We are just two competitors going at it. He is a good man. A great player and a real talisman for England. I knew if he got a chance to get his hands on me he would have a crack at me. That’s just rugby. I would expect nothing less this weekend.

“You have to be careful around those areas in how you retaliate. With the Genge one, I was being asked to calm down when I thought I was being pretty measured. You have to be careful. You don’t want anyone running in but there’s a fair bit of niggle.”

Lawes, however, believes there is a certain irony to the accusations coming from the Wallabies. “We actually don’t [do that]. I think we just wind them up in general because they don’t like us.

“I’m skipper fortunately and I haven’t heard anything about trying to wind them up. We just want to concentrate on ourselves and play our game and we talk about not letting them wind us up, so that’s quite funny he said that.”

The England forwards coach, Matt Proudfoot, believes off-the-ball clashes are to be expected given the history of the Anglo-Australian rivalry. “It’s the nature of the contest,” he said. “Just watching the Ashes series and the amount of sledging that goes off in that, these guys are competing. They need to understand and grow and know where the line is.

“How you develop players is educating. You never want to take that intensity away from a player like Gengey. He’s got an unbelievable future ahead of him, he’s a leader in the group and it’s my role to show him where the line is and help mature him. I think he’s been maturing fantastically throughout the season.”