More accustomed to throwing leads away, Australia bounced back from a 9-5 half-time deficit to beat England 18-9 at Twickenham.
More accustomed to throwing leads away, Australia bounced back from a 9-5 half-time deficit to beat England 18-9 at Twickenham on Saturday.
The win is just the tonic Australia need at the end of a year in which they have so often flattered to deceive. England were limited, but the manner in which Australia came out in the second half and took the game by the cobblers will have had Robbie Deans glowing inside.
It's England's limitations that will be the prime subject of focus after this game, not so much in terms of personnel but certainly in tactical thinking. At the end of an opening quarter which England utterly dominated, they should have held far more than a 6-0 lead. A minute later, after Australia's first meaningful spell of pressure, it was only 6-5. Will Genia, and later in the game, Adam Ashley-Cooper, found something that England never did.
More meaningful than the scoreline ought to be a sober reflection on the number of scoring opportunities Australia butchered as well. Matt Giteau was twice denied by thumping tackles from Jonny Wilkinson and Rocky Elsom suffered an untimely case of tunnel vision, while a wrong option to chip by Drew Mitchell and a butter-fingered moment from Digby Ioane by the line also meant points went a-begging.
But it is the first twenty minutes that England must focus on, perhaps even the entire first half. They had nine penalties to Australia's two. Steve Borthwick and Tom Croft were creating all sorts of problems for Australia's line-out – they stole three out of seven. It took Australia 16 minutes to have, and claim, a phase of set-piece possession. Stats like that should mean a lead of at least ten points.
England did lead 6-0 at the end of the first twenty, courtesy of a majestic drop goal from Wilkinson and a penalty but they had to kick on and press the advantage home. Instead, outside of an effervescent Wilkinson whose absorption of French rugby culture appears to have stretched to his becoming almost maverick with his steps and chips, there was little beyond the crash, bash and thunder of archetypal English club rugby. Straight running, lots of contact, lots of rucking, lots of basics… in the end, quite a lot of nothing at all. More imagination is needed.
Instead it was Genia who showed the way, sparking a wave of attacks and then slipping through a gap at the base of a ruck to put the Wallabies on the scoreboard.
England continued to dominate, but the question had been posed. 'We can do that,' said Australia. 'What can you do?'
Well, Wilkinson kicked another penalty. England's defence stood resolute late on – again, Wilkinson showed his importance – as Australia came again. England's pack continued to rumble. But it was Giteau who looked the most likely to score as half-time neared, with Wilkinson putting in a terrific tackle on him.
At 9-5, England sat pretty at the break. This is Australia, after all, the team that always fades. Except this time, Australia's forwards came out and got into English faces. Giteau nailed a penalty for an offside, after a movement where both he and Elsom could have released the ball for tries. A dubious scrum penalty on the hour mark meant Giteau gave his side the lead. Now England had to respond. Wilkinson tried his hardest with a sublime chip, regather and offload, but nobody else had the fluency or imagination to carry the move on. Eventually, the men in white resorted to type, trying to grind it out. It won't cut the mustard against the more sophisticated teams.
But the killer blow will have had Martin Johnson's forehead dropping deep with rage. Out the ball came left to Adam Ashley-Cooper, who was taken too high and too upright by both Mark Cueto and Ugo Monye. The Wallaby full-back renowned for his strength on his feet, powered forward and dragged the two Englishmen over the line with him from 15m out. Giteau converted to send Australia two scores ahead with ten to go – two scores England were never going to get.
Man of the match: Will Genia takes this one, with Quade Cooper and Jonny Wilkinson a close second. Cooper in particular looked as close to coming of age as he ever has, while Wilkinson looked as fresh as a spring day. But Genia's pace, intelligence and threatening running posed continual questions that England found too much to cope with.
Moment of the match: Adam Ashley-Cooper's try killed the game off – and what a score it was!
Villain of the match: We're almost tempted to castigate the players for being too clean! Where's the edge? No award.
Pens: Wilkinson 2
Drop goal: Wilkinson
Tries: Genia, Ashley-Cooper
Pens: Giteau 2
England: 15 Ugo Monye, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Shane Geraghty, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Danny Care, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Steve Borthwick (Captain), 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dave Wilson, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Tim Payne.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Duncan Bell, 18 Courtney Lawes, 19 James Haskell, 20 Paul Hodgson, 21 Andy Goode, 22 Ayoola Erinle.
Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Peter Hynes, 13 Digby Ioane, 12 Quade Cooper, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 George Smith, 6 Rocky Elsom, (captain), 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 James Horwill, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota Nau, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Dean Mumm, 19 David Pocock, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Ryan Cross, 22 James O'Connor.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Tim Hayes (Wales)
Television match officials: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Assessor: Michel Lamoulie (France)
By Danny Stephens