Giteau shades Cipriani in Twickenham showdown
November 15, 2008
Australia's Matt Giteau got the better of his opposite number England's Danny Cipriani in the Cook Cup clash at Twickenham. © Getty Images
Wallabies fly-half Matt Giteau took the honours in his head-to-head with England counterpart Danny Cipriani with a clinical kicking display to guide Australia to Cook Cup glory at Twickenham.
The showdown between 'magical' skills of Giteau and the 'exciting potential' of Cipriani had caught many people's imagination in the build up to the match but in the end it was the forwards who stole the headlines in a brutal battle that was only occasionally graced with flair.
A chorus of boos welcomed the Wallabies' onto the field - a little early perhaps for panto season and some of the early physical exchanges were not exactly family viewing.
Those who had bought into the much-heralded battle at scrum-time had little time to wait with the first set-piece coming with a minute on the clock and it would be the battle up front that would go on to define this encounter.
Giteau, returning to the site of his 2002 international debut, was first to open his account after just two minutes and he had his second soon after as England were penalised for some indiscipline at the breakdown. Martin Johnson's side more than held their own up front but a series of infringements would cost them dear with Giteau the grateful recipient.
The Wallabies' rush defence ensured a ferocious battle at the gainline but Cipriani found enough room in the early exchanges for a good probing kick that tested the visitors and promised more.
A couple of minutes later Giteau stole the spotlight back, pouncing on a loose lineout throw deep inside his own 22 the Force star exploded into action racing 50m upfield but he tried to force a pass to his skipper Stirling Mortlock who had valiantly kept pace with his electric flyhalf.
The Twickenham crowd of 80,000 needed little encouragement to buy into this latest meeting of these old rivals but their frustration with referee Marius Jonker soon came to the fore. 'Yelling at Jonker' may not prove as popular a pastime as 'Bashing Barnes' but for this afternoon at least it had a fair following.
With England sturggling to make an impression on the gainline, Cipriani opted for a shot at the posts on the quarter hour but failed to hit the target. But all was forgiven a few minutes later when he scythed through the Wallabies' defence to bring the home crowd to their feet.
Dancing his way out of tackles, Cipriani lit up England's HQ and club mate Riki Flutey was there in support but the promising move came to an end as hooker Lee Mears was forced into touch.
A roar of expectancy soon swept the stadium as England fullback Delon Armitage picked up the ball just inside the Australian half and few would have predicted at that moment that he would be the player to kick England's first points - but that was what he did with a crowd-pleasing drop goal from fully 40m before. He retreated into position with a smile on his face after being congratulated by winger Ugo Monye with an expression that seemed to say, 'I can't believe you just did that'.
The forwards continued to do their best to write Sunday's headlines but in England's case perhaps for all the wrong reasons as they found themselves on the wrong end of Jonker's whistle time and time again.
Giteau stretched his side's lead with two further penalties and he incurred the wrath of the England faithful who lost patience with the No.10 as he lined up the second and let him know with a slow hand clap.
England finally broke the Wallabies' resilience a few minutes before the break with Nick Easter notching the first try of the game following some good work from the England forwards. Cipriani failed with the conversion attempt but he finally opened his account with a penalty a couple of minutes later to make it a one-point game.
Giteau blotted his own copybook before the teams headed to the tunnel with his first miss of the match.
With the match in the balance the game was there for the taking and both flyhalves looked keen to make the telling contribution. First Giteau put his skipper Stirling Mortlock into gap of his creating but the defence forced the mistake that brought an end to the move.
Then Cipriani had the crowd on their feet again surging into the 22, but the Wallabies' defence stood once more and the England No.10 was left cursing himself for a rash drop goal attempt that sailed wide. He found his range to give England the lead with a penalty soon after but their advantage was short-lived.
When a Danny Care clearance was charged down on the England 22, it was Cipriani who scampered back into his own in-goal area and although the danger was averted he caught his left foot in the Twickenham turf - the same foot that just six months ago was pointing in the wrong direction after he suffered a horrific ankle injury on domestic duty for Wasps.
It was an anxious few moments for England fans and coaches alike but he shook off the knock and returned to the fray. Another infringement at the scrum offered Giteau the chance to regain the lead for his side which he duly did and another successful penalty saw them edge further ahead.
And Mortlock got in on the act with a long-range effort just past the hour mark.
The Wallabies took a firm grip on the match as the game approached the last ten minutes and Giteau had a hand in their try. Just as the move looked to have stumbled to a halt, Giteau conjured an unorthodox flip of the ball to keep the move alive and allow Adam Ashley-Cooper to go over in the corner.
Giteau's conversion took the Wallabies out to a 14 point lead and one that would carry them to a famous victory.
Cipriani's day got worse as he was rocked to his boots by a cheap shot from replacement Wycliff Palu just as he looked to delay a decisive pass inside the Wallabies' 22 - but the pass to Simon Shaw was forward and a minute later he was replaced by Toby Flood and with it conceded defeat to his Wallabies counterpart in their own personal battle.
A mobile phone-based survey of the crowd at Twickenham selected Giteau as the man of the match but the official nod went to his hooker Stephen Moore. And the gratitude of Giteau and his backline colleagues was there for all to see as they raced over from their positions to congratulate their forwards after snuffing out yet another England scrum in the dying moments of the game.
Following his latest lesson in international intensity, Cipriani admitted to his own and his side's shortcomings. "The team needed to get the structure right and to apply it. I did some good things and some inconsistent things today - like the team as a whole. But it's still only my fifth cap, so hopefully I'll learn a few things from this and continue to improve."
"We went slightly off structure at some points - that's something we can work on during the coming week. We made some good breaks and played some good rugby, but we're still searching for consistency. We learnt a lesson from Australia today in how to close out a game."
His thoughts were echoed by his manager Martin Johnson - "I think he's learning all the time what Test match rugby is all about. It's about how you handle the pressure of the field."
Giteau, who finished with 23 points, refused to concentrate on his own achievements after the game - opting instead to heap praise on the grunt produced by his forward. "I don't know what goes on in there but the forwards really stood up today," he said.
Maybe not a classic Cook Cup contest but a ful-blooded encounter all the same. Once again Cipriani showed flashes of brilliance and is surely destined for greatness but on this day Kid Dynamite blew him away.
Matt Giteau v Danny Cipriani - Match Stats
Points: Giteau 23 (7 pens, 1con); Cipriani 6 (1 pen, 1 drop)
Courtesy of Opta
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker