Wallabies too clever for England
November 7, 2009
Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper powers his way over the line for his side's second try © Getty Images
England's latest defeat at the hands of Tri-Nations opposition served to illustrate that the gulf between the two hemispheres is as big as ever.
Australia may have finished a distant third in the battle for this year's southern hemisphere crown but they were still in a different league when compared to the best England could muster in front of another capacity yet success-starved Twickenham crowd. If they were hoping for some belated fireworks they are better off looking elsewhere this evening.
England were far too conservative to have a hope of out-witting a clever yet under-pressure Wallabies side. The hosts had the platform in the first half thanks to a well-drilled lineout and scrum but could not carve the Wallabies open and failed to score after Jonny Wilkinson's 25th minute penalty. And not even the hulking unit that is winger Matt Banahan could force an opening - appearing laboured rather than lethal.
The handling may have been good in the main but was worryingly lateral. Wilkinson and Shane Geraghty showed brief glimpses of their attacking flair but this explosive combination failed to go off and will be a concern for attack coach Brian Smith. England will struggle to make an impression at the sport's next global showpiece if they continue to masquerade as the 'men who stare at goats' - seemingly happy to opt for psychic combat rather than incisive physical endeavours.
Martin Johnson and co can have no complaints at the result. They were beaten by the better side despite the fact that their opponents were largely untried and arguably less prepared having only jetted in from Tokyo earlier this week. Let us also not forget that Robbie Deans' side were reeling from six defeats in their last seven matches - this was a big opportunity for England to make a statement as we get ever closer to the Rugby World Cup but it was missed.
Scrum-half Will Genia played a starring role for Australia to underline his growing stature. A lot is made of the potential of this current crop of Wallabies and an equal amount of criticism has been levelled at them for their lack success. But make no mistake - Genia can no longer be bracketed in that group. He has arrived on global stage and in the 21-year-old the visitors have at last found someone to fill the formidable boots of Wallabies legend George Gregan.
But it was not all bad for England. They have played worse than this and won but they will be of little consolation. Discipline was England's downfall for much of Martin Johnson's first year in charge and there was no danger of the kind of yellow card-fever we saw this time last year. This was a much more controlled display from the hosts but lacked the dynamism required to really make a mark.
Wilkinson looked like he had never been away from the international stage despite the fact that this was the first time he had pulled on his country's colours for 18 months. His kicking ability has never been in doubt and he dispelled any concerns about the fragility of his body by producing a series a bone-crunching and momentum-stopping tackles. There was also some sublime skill with one kick, chase and offload to remind us if we needed it of his true class - sadly there wasn't more.
Flanker Lewis Moody was another to catch the eye having shrugged off his own injury woes. A dominant force at the breakdown and his usual raging bull-self at the re-start - he has been sorely missed. England's set-piece dominance in the opening period was also promising with skipper Steve Borthwick pulling the strings but they could not sustain that level of performance.
England do not need to go back to the drawing board having shown they can compete but they must find a cutting edge and fast if they are to trouble the All Blacks in a fortnight's time and even Argentina who visit next weekend. Australia will head to Dublin with renewed confidence having remembered how to win and they will no doubt kick on - but they will need to with the Six Nations Grand Slam champions awaiting them.