Australia hold off England assault
June 12, 2010
Australia's David Pocock congratulates Quade Cooper on scoring during the clash in Perth
© Getty Images
Australia held off a brutal challenge from England to notch a 27-17 at victory in their clash at the Subiaco Oval in Perth on Saturday.
Two tries and a penalty from fly-half Quade Cooper and another five-pointer from captain Rocky Elsom carried the hosts to victory with fullback James O'Connor weighing in with a further nine points from the boot. England's dominance at scrum time brought two second-half penalty tries and No.10 Toby Flood finished with a penalty and two conversions, but his side's muscle was not enough to overcome the Wallabies' flair.
England were chasing their first victory on southern hemisphere soil since manager Martin Johnson lifted the Rugby World Cup as captain in 2003. New Zealand rugby league international Shontayne Hape was handed his debut at inside centre while hooker Steve Thompson, lock Tom Palmer started and flanker Tom Croft all started in the pack. The Wallabies were forced to field their most inexperienced front row in 27 years. Debutant loosehead prop Ben Daley, hooker Saia Faingaa and tighthead Salesi Ma'afu boasted just two caps and one Test start between them. Star centre Matt Giteau was ruled out yesterday with a hip injury and was replaced by Berrick Barnes.
A big early scrum from England drew the game's first penalty but Australia responded well with fullback O'Connor, fresh from his hat-trick for the Barbarians in midweek, looking dangerous from the off. And the youngster combined well with Cooper to set the alarm bells ringing for England with a harsh forward pass call offering the tourists a reprieve. A poor box kick from scrum-half Danny Care then gifted Australia possession on the England 22 and the eventual penalty offered O'Connor the chance to open the scores but his kick was wayward.
Australia continued to turn the screw but handling issues let them down as they closed in on the line. England struggled to find any rhythm under increasing pressure and a darting break from No.9 Luke Burgess cut the visitors open again. He found wing Drew Mitchell who was felled by a desperate tackle from Chris Ashton with the supporting Richard Brown bundled into touch.
England's more experienced pack offer their side some respite at scrum time but the Wallabies were soon on the front foot again with Mitchell scything through all too easily after an aimless kick. The ball was then worked wide via O'Connor and Mitchell to skipper Elsom who strolled over in the corner for the opening try of the game. O'Connor rediscovered his kicking touch to slot the conversion.
Handling errors continued to blunt Australia's impressive attacking intent and those deficiencies, coupled with their scrummaging woes, allowed Flood the chance to put England on the board but his long range effort failed to hit the target. His miss was compounded by Australia's next score on the half hour mark. Burgess again made the key incision and Cooper wrapped around on a late scissors to collect the scoring pass and dot down under the posts. O'Connor's simple conversion cemented his side's lead and England responded by kicking to the corner for a lineout when awarded what appeared to be a kickable penalty. A succession of drives failed to yield a score against a resolute Australia defence with Care going closest having opted for a short side break.
A well-worked lineout move saw No.8 Nick Easter and then lock Simon Shaw edge nearer the Wallabies' line but a forward pass from centre Hape brought an end to another promising move. England surged forward again looking for a morale-boosting score before the break but they coughed up the ball again under pressure from the home side.
England's hopes took a further blow at the re-start with Moody suffering a heavy blow to the head when tackling Mitchell but the resilient skipper returned to the fray to add his support to a scrum that was soon inflicting more woe on the Wallabies. This time England opted for a shot at the posts and Flood finally put his side on the board with the kick. Australia bounced back with another strong drive deep into England's 22 where they opted to run a penalty but they could not find an opening.
England then conjured a rare counter-attack with Ashton providing the initial injection of pace after collecting a pass from hooker Steve Thompson inside his own 22. The Saints flyer found able support in the form of club-mate Ashton who galloped at pace into the Wallabies' half. Shaw was then the link man to centre Mike Tindall who powered into the 22 where flanker Croft looked to force his way over but he was held up by Mitchell. The England pack then looked to finish the job and after a series of blasts from referee Nigel Owens' whistle, the inevitable penalty try brought the visitors back into the game and Flood's conversion closed the deficit to four points.
Australia struck back in style with another scintillating break. Cooper's pass found winger Digby Ioane out wide and he stepped inside of Foden before returning the ball to his fly-half with a superb offload. The Wallabies' No.10 then finished off the move he started to claim his second try before O'Connor stepped up to nail an excellent conversion.
England responded in kind with Tindall again going close and pressure at scrum time forced another turnover with replacement No.9 Ben Youngs orchestrating his backline with authority. But Australia weathered the storm before scrambling the ball away. England's increased intensity brought further joy with Ashton almost wriggling free inside the 22 but he was guilty of throwing a wild pass that failed to find Croft. A forward pass handed the England scrum another opportunity to exert their superiority and the Australian pack once again felt the wrath of the referee with tight-head Ma'afu shown a yellow card. But there was more woe for Australia with Owens awarding a second penalty try that along with Flood's conversion brought England to within four points once again with ten minutes of the game remaining.
It was no surprise to see Australia return to their running game and an offside call against Easter allowed O'Connor to give his side some breathing room with the boot. A knock on from Ioane when attempting to collect a poor clearance from Cueto handed England another scrum but they were thwarted by some excellent work from Wallabies flanker David Pocock. Australia were happy to play the territorial game from that point on and England's desperation led to another penalty that was slotted by Cooper to cap a superb individual performance and seal his side's victory.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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