England reveal their true colours
November 14, 2010
England skipper Lewis Moody celebrates the final whistle at Twickenham © Getty Images
Robbie Deans' men were beaten comprehensively at their own game at Twickenham on Saturday. The Wizards of Oz were dealt a harsh lesson by an inspired England team that could just as easily have been wearing gold jumpers instead of the drab grey anthracite numbers that were struck especially for this brilliant occasion.
It was the home team that moved the ball with precision to the outer limits, ran at their opponents with guile and then cut them down ruthlessly behind the advantage line. It was as complete an England performance as I can remember. Inventive, cohesive and backed by a collective self-belief to run the ball from anywhere.
Ironically, it was a victory forged thanks to the exact mindset that has almost exclusively been the domain of the men from Down Under in recent Cook Cup history. England's masterclass was all about taking opportunities and converting them into points. If in fact the Australians were well prepared for their opponents' ball-in-hand approach, then their examination result only secured a 'pass' mark.
None of the expected one dimensional trench warfare and scrum bludgeoning emanated from the big England pack. Instead, front-rowers were more intent on committing defenders and off-loading in contact to keep the movement alive.
The Wallabies short-changed themselves in the goal-kicking department. They failed to punish England's early high risk approach and found themselves stranded in the headlights instead of sitting comfortably in the driver's seat. After two penalty misses, the frustration was compounded when Australia declined a much easier penalty attempt only to break down in midfield when James O'Connor spilled an audacious inside flick from Quade Cooper with England under the pump.
Just when the young Wallaby backs needed to follow their mantra and seize the moment they fluffed their lines. Was this a symptom of a greater malaise? Had the glowing praise lavished on the Aussie backs by Fleet St rugby scribes infiltrated their killer instincts and blurred creative vision? An unintended con job by the British press perhaps?
Whatever the answer, Genia, Cooper, O'Connor and Co. were sat on their backsides and given a salutary reminder about the realities of elite Test rugby. Stumble at your peril. The rapid descent from the penthouse is always just around the corner.
The outcome of the eagerly-awaited clash of two world class scrum-halves was emphatically resolved early in the second-half and so was the match. Genia's ill-fated decision to back himself and ignore a two-man overlap equated to a fourteen point turnaround. It was his opposite number Ben Youngs who then landed the knock-out blow by instigating the bold counter attack for Chris Ashton's breathtaking try.
Instead of trailing 19-11 with the kick to come, the Australians found themselves in no-man's land at 26-6 with their captor's sharpening knives for the final kill. In the final washup, Australia missed five shots at goal. That is unacceptable at this level and in stark contrast to England's 'perfect nine'. Remember too that Matt Giteau's missed goal-kick in Sydney handed England victory back in June.
O'Connor's unsuccessful kicks missed narrowly but the temptation to introduce the more reliable Berrick Barnes could be in Deans' thinking. This raises the concern about Giteau's effectiveness at inside-centre. It would be a big call to drop the little maestro but clearly he is not the influential force his coach yearns for in such a young backline.
Giteau is a sound tackler but Barnes adds another dimension in defence and would provide extra cover for Cooper's glaring frailties in that department. Barnes' more direct running at 12 could also provide even greater fluency further out.
Despite this conclusive loss there was also a lot to like about this Wallaby performance. The scrum was respectable after the debacle in Cardiff and the defensive organization impressive, particularly when fully stretched. But it was the Wallaby attack that spluttered in the face of a swarming opponent. Australia often needed more ball-running forwards up the middle before going wide. England cast a powerful defensive net and the visitors were unable to go around it.
Kurtley Beale continues to grow in stature and was Australia's most dangerous and creative back. But rugby is a team game and the best team prevailed at Twickenham. Fittingly they did so in the finest traditions of Aussie running rugby. The 'wild colonial boys' had no answer on the day.
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