A tale of two halves at Twickenham

Date published: November 2 2013

England head coach Stuart Lancaster praised his team for recovering from a sluggish start in Saturday's victory over the Wallabies.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster praised his team for recovering from a sluggish start in Saturday's victory over the Wallabies.

England walked into this game like a man carrying a hangover from the night before; in the first quarter they were sluggish, inept and looked far from the best. But as the day wore on, their head cleared and the energy returned, as they swept Australia aside to retain the Cook Cup.

Lancaster was quick to laud the turnaround of his young side:

“Yes, that was a tough test match and we're delighted to have gotten the win. We didn't come out of the blocks quite as we'd like,' explained the Yorkshireman.

“We conceded a daft try, our line out stuttered a little, and I feel at times, our defence got too narrow, one of the reasons we conceded the first try. But to go in 13-6 down at half time, yet show the resilience and commitment to turn that round was a real triumph of will and teamship.”

Was this the classic case of first-game nerves for England against an Australian side that have been together for some time?

“When you put it in that context, yes, you are right,” said Lancaster.

“We had some big players missing; Lions like Manu (Tuilagi) and Alex Corbisiero. Three of our lads were playing at Twickenham for the first time, and Courtney Lawes was running an international line-out for the first time. Conversely, this Wallaby side has been together since before the Lions series, so yes there is something in that.

“We missed several shots and when we went into the dressing room at half time, we knew that the key was to build our own momentum, and not go chasing the scoreboard. We asked for accuracy, and to challenge the Wallabies down route one and hit their ruck areas very hard.”

England assistant coach Andy Farrell explained that he felt the game never really formed a shape early on

“There was a lot more kicking that you'd expect to see from an Australian side which didn't help us,” said Farrell.

“It was very stop start, we made a number of unforced errors, and then leaked a soft try.

“However, the most pleasing thing for me was we found a way to win. Doesn't matter how we did it, but we found a way to come back from behind and take the match. That shows character and determination; exactly the qualities we look to instil into the team culture.”

Farrell also believes that an 'ugly' win of that nature gives the coaches a lot more to work with than a run-away victory.

“It certainly gives you a sense of perspective,” agreed the cross-code coach.

“We know, from today, our re-starts were poor. At one point we had a lock and two props in the wide channel chasing a long drop out which is plainly wrong. There are tweaks to be made in a few areas, but the way we found a way to win was the most pleasing aspect of the game.”

Lancaster was also quick to point out a number of new combinations were on show for the first time.

“Joel Tomkins and Billy Twelvetrees would not have been on many people's teamsheet a few weeks ago, but both did well,” said the coach.

“Mike Brown, who has done sterling work out of position for 18 tests on the wing showed just why he's the best full-back in the Premiership with an outstanding display. Don't forget either, Israel Folau moves a 15 around a lot; Mike spent a lot of time defending a wider channel than he normally would just to counter Folau's outside break.”

And what of Man of the Match Brown? The Harlequin with attitude is how some describe him, and he brings an edge to his play whether at 11 or 15. What was it like to be back at full-back?

“It doesn't really matter to me,” he said.

“You're playing for the shirt and that's that. I'm pleased I can contribute properly though, and I believe I've served a form of apprenticeship out on the left wing. I do prefer the back though, and I think that I understand angles slightly better, as I play there for my club week in week out.”

Was it the best day in an England shirt for the Harlequin?

“I've had a couple of memorable wins already, but yes, that was outstanding. Home ground, favourite position, contributed well and got an award. I can live with that,” he smiled.

Skipper Chris Robshaw was another to emphasize the importance of a result over performance.

“It would have been easy to have chased that game and leaked tries,” he said.

“Everyone knows the skills Australia have outside their pack, and we knew the keys were to drive them off their ruck, dominate the loose exchanges and really work and want that win.

“At half time we spoke about intensity on the gain line, the tackle line and the ruck. We wanted the big lads to hit hard, straight and direct, thus forcing them always on the back foot and countering the combative presence of Michael Hooper. We managed to do exactly that with the Vunipola brothers, Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole making some very big incursions.

“I think we were also fortunate that the replacements really did make an impact; Joe Marler with some huge tackles, and Benny Youngs changing the pace and counterpoint of attack. These are things all good international sides have in their armoury and we're developing our options all the time.”

Vice-Captain Tom Wood underlined his colleagues comments and brought a new dimension to how England are preparing themselves for big matches.

“I was asked to wear my shirt in front of the team and explain what both the shirt and playing for England meant,” said Wood.

“I had to stop and think so I could articulate it properly. It was emotional and hard. But maybe it's doing things like that that brings you through in these tough games.

“It made it easier to stand up and identify the changes we needed to make at half time, and how to execute them. It also placed into context why we needed to do it, and for whom. Quite frankly, the pre-match work we put in, combined with the absolute pride Stuart has imbued in the shirt, makes a difference in a tight game like that.”

The last word comes from Lancaster, who believes he will take a lot of positives from the England display.

“A runaway win against a second tier nation tells you little to nothing about your side,” said the coach.

“Playing a top four nation, getting behind and having to force for the win tells you a lot more. We can see from the game today at the aspects we need to work on.

“We know we're not complete, nor the finished article. But a challenge like that allows us to diagnose the issues that need attention, and then to try and fix them. Without knowledge such as that, it's impossible to improve.”

By James While at Twickenham