England sound World Cup warning
November 13, 2010
England's Chris Ashton races away to score against the Wallabies at Twickenham © Getty Images
Ssshhh. Whisper it quietly. England look like world-beaters once again.
Martin Johnson's side delivered a timely reminder that they remain a force on the international stage with a totally dominant display against Australia at Twickenham.
Rarely will you see and England side totally dominate a rival from the southern hemisphere but that is exactly what they did against a strong Wallabies side, who let us not forget accounted for the No.1 ranked All Blacks just a fortnight ago. Suddenly it appears that next year's World Cup in New Zealand will not be the Tri-Nations-dominated event many would have you believe.
"I thought we played pretty well" was Johnson's understated assessment of his side's performance. Nice try Johnno. There is little chance of keeping a lid on the expectation surrounding his side following such a commanding display - one that will reverberate around the world. They may have been playing in a questionable grey - or 'anthracite' if you believe the marketing blurb - change strip on a dour autumnal day but their performance was far from it - in fact it was rather fizzing with colour from the off.
The much-hyped battle at scrum time was nothing more than a phoney war but the void was filled emphatically by England, whose desire to play a high-tempo running game from the first whistle to the last took Twickenham's collective breath away. The fitness levels on show were simply outstanding and ensured that the awe-inspiring tempo continued to trouble the Wallabies. If they continue in a similar vein over the coming weeks they might as well rip out the seats at Twickenham - with the crowd on their feet more often than on their costly pieces of south west London real estate.
It is perhaps a shame to single out individual performances after arguably their most impressive team display since that famous night in Sydney seven years ago but praise is due - widespread praise at that.
Take a bow Ben Youngs. The scrum-half was the tormentor-in-chief until forced to make way in the second half with a dazzling blend of pace, poise and trickery that belied his paltry five Test caps. His ability is no secret but his maturity is a revelation. The 20-year-old set the tone for the game with a relentless work-rate and his confidence had to be seen to be believed - audaciously stepping Wallabies poster boy Quade Cooper on his own line in the build up to winger Chris Ashton's second try.
Great games are often graced with memorable scores and the Saints flyer's second half score is sure to live long in the memory. His Obolensky-esque effort owes a great deal to Youngs and the soft hands of lock Courtney Lawes but just as much to the blistering pace that has lit up the Premiership. It is also sure to carry him all the way to New Zealand next year. Fellow wing Mark Cueto was not to be outdone and scythed through the Wallabies' defence with ease on more than one occasion - perhaps inspired by his team-mate's endeavour.
But while the backs will bask in the glory and the headlines it will be the defensive display that will have Johnson and Co. smiling most. You cannot put pace on the ball unless you have possession and it was the likes of Lawes, flanker Tom Croft and hooker Dylan Hartley who robbed of the scrum proving ground, doubled their efforts in the loose to powerful effect.
Team-mates heap praise on fleet-footed Ashton%]
The much-vaunted Wallabies' backline were hounded relentlessly and starved of time and the ball but to their credit they still made a game of it and threatened to turn it on its head as they have done several times this season when apparently out of the contest. But England were not going to let this one slip having worked so hard.
Almost as thrilling as the scoreline was England's consistency. The promise shown against France in the Six Nations was nurtured in Australia in the summer and even in defeat to the All Blacks last weekend there were important lessons learned as this display demonstrated. In this kind of form England are a joy to behold. More of the same please.
When one team has such a glorious day another must suffer in the shadows - step forward the Wallabies. How infuriating it must be to follow the Green and Gold - one week you hit your straps against the world's best and a fortnight later you simply don't turn up. To be fair, England did not let them play but at the same time many of their so-called stars were notable by their absence in mind and body.
It is a good bet that they were not expecting such a barnstorming display from England - nobody was - but big time players should be able to think on their feet and adjust accordingly. Fly-half Quade Cooper was found out on more than one occasion as a weak link in the defensive chain and with his confidence rocked he failed to fire in attack. Winger James O'Connor also came crashing down to earth with bump after suffering a woeful day with the boot and centre Adam Ashley-Cooper was another swept up and spat out by a rampant England. Fullback Kurtley Beale bucked the trend with another eye-catching display and his two tries deserved a better supporting cast.
The Wallabies must now rebuild their reputation starting against Italy next weekend while England will welcome the challenge of Samoa with renewed relish.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Top 14, Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership with fireworks and monsters both featuring
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14