Planet Rugby

England forge ahead

06th October 2007 15:41


England front up

Have that! England's forwards assert their superiority

England have become the first of the four World Cup semi-finalists after beating Australia 12-10 in Marseille on Saturday with a barnstorming forward performance.

Australia scored the only try of the game on a rare visit to England's 22 in the first half, but over the eighty minutes the England forward eight simply shoved, pushed and heaved their opponents out of the game.

Jonny Wilkinson once again was the deepest thorn in Australia's side, notching four penalties as a result of the pressure the English pack exerted, and England may reflect in the aftermath that the win ought to have been more convincing had the backs been even vaguely disposed to try a few offloads.

Australia star Chris Latham was in tears after the game, and one might surmise that he was simply longing for England's pack. Just imagine what Australia's gifted backline could do with the likes of Simon Shaw and Andrew Sheridan - or what England could do with the likes of Latham and Stirling Mortlock! In the spirit of ABAB (anyone but the All Blacks), can't we allow England and Australia to now join forces?

Admittedly, this game will not win any beauty pageants. But beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder: this dog of a game will go down in English history as a prize-winning pooch - a thoroughbred bulldog.

What character! What resolve! What an upset! England's players had insisted that there was a good performance in them, but who really believed it?

Yet they delivered - and what a delivery it was. This was unquestionably England's best performance since that day way back when, and it is no exaggeration to say that this famous victory exorcises some of the more painful memories of the past four years.

As for the Wallabies - well, what happened? That famous Australian grit, that mental strength that has served them so well so often, was simply absent from proceedings.

They were shocked into submission by England's physicality in contact and their limpet-like defence. They seemed as confused by England's confidence and ability as most of the watching world. Who would have guess that the English had a rabid rabbit stashed under their hat? Have they been having us all on?

How Australia missed the calming influence of Steven Larkham. The fly-half's young replacement, Berrick Barnes, endured a nasty and prolonged attack of stage fright, but who can blame him? His forwards failed to offer him even the vaguest semblance of a stage on which to perform.

England set out their stall from the off, firing their big men at the fringes to good effect.

The decent start emboldened the English and they soon felt confident enough to try to run out a drop-out. Needless to say, it backfired and they duly coughed up a penalty.

Mortlock missed the chance to open the scoring as his kick at the sticks drifted wide in the swirling breeze, but he made amends moments later as England were found fingering the ball at a bottom of a ruck.

The English won possession from the ensuing re-start but conceded another penalty as Paul Sackey held on in isolation - a recurring theme for England, brought on, in part, by their penchant for picking size over snipe in the back row.

Australia won another penalty at the first scrum of the game, and what a massive fillip to the gold pack it was. England were adjudged to have gone to ground, but the men in white clearly felt that their opponents had simply released their own handbrake. Mortlock failed to add injury to insult by, again, missing the sticks.

Jason Robinson then punctuated the penalty-fest by cutting a fine angle off Shaw's deft inside-past and England were finally in the gold 22, but the raid died as Mike Catt allowed the ball to dribble into Australian hands.

England's error-strewn opening gave no hint of what was to come, and England captain Phil Vickery deserves praise for gathering his side together to demand calm and precision - 'keep it simple, stupid' was surely the call, and it proved to be the kiss of death.

So England went back on the attack, surprising the Wallabies with their will to spread the ball wide. Stephen Moore got himself into a hopeless muddle as he attempted to clear a grubber and England had their first penalty of the game. Wilkinson stepped up and opened his account.

He was soon lining up another kick at goal as the Wallaby scrum collapsed under immense pressure from the giants in white, and he duly claimed the lead for his side, ousting Gavin Hastings from the top of the all-time World Cup points-scoring table in the process.

The World Cup holders, finally playing like World Cup holders, now sensed that the game was there for the taking and began to crash into breakdowns with muscular conviction. Meanwhile, Barnes's nerves were continuing to get the better of him and his fowards found themselves backing towards the ropes.

But Wilkinson missed his third attempt at goal and Australia suddenly realised that they could not survive on the odd let-off.

As so often before, it was the majestic Latham who shook his companions from their slumber by cutting a savage angle through the white midfield. With England in reverse, the Wallabies moved the ball wide to their left. A divine show-and-go from Barnes then opened a gap and Lote Tuqiri was across in the corner for his first and final try of the tournament. Mortlock slotted the conversion and Australia had won back the lead against the run of play.

Wilkinson soon had a chance to narrow the gap after Australia conceded a penalty in defence, but the breeze took his kick off target and the Wallabies took a largely undeserved 10-6 lead into the break.

England began the concluding stanza of Australia's World Cup campaign as they had the one before it, asserting forward dominance all over the pitch.

A massive scrum on the Australian line gave Wycliff Palu all sorts of problems, and but for a knock-on from Mike Catt, England would have had a converted try.

But the English plugged on, knowing that something would have to give. In the end they had to settle for three points after Australia killed the raid illegally.

Now the pressure even began to tell on Latham who forwent an acre of space for a long-range drop at goal - it missed.

The Wallabies then grew wobblier still by conceding another scrum on their line. What looked like the genesis of a push-over try was, again, somewhat cynically annulled by George Smith and Wilkinson stepped up to steal back the lead.

Daniel Vickerman then took his frustrations out on Andy Gomarsall and England took the opportunity to hammer their tent pegs into the gold half - and there they remained.

Wilkinson then summoned up the ghosts by dropping at goal. His attempt sailed wide but its significance would have registered in Australian minds.

Yet far from being spooked, the Wallabies seem to draw strength from the moment.

Danger was ever present behind the creaking gold scrum, and some poor English kicking late in the game threatened to undo so much good work.

But George Gregan, not normally a flapper, was the next to buckle under England's relentless defensive onslaught, getting himself into a tizzy after being harassed off the ball at the breakdown. His insolence allowed Wilkinson a chance to make the game safe, but he missed the posts and Australia were still alive.

With just moments to go, England fans shielded their eyes as Mortlock lined up a kick of his own after Joe Worsley was pinged for hands in the ruck.

This was surely destiny - another example of Australia's mastery of mind over matter would surely follow. But today the boot was on the other foot, and the ball veered just wide.

All England had to do was secure the drop-out and clear they lines, and with 'Swing Low' finally drowning out chants of "Allez les Jaunes!" from the 'neutrals', they did just that. England are off to Paris, the Wallabies are on their way home.

Australian Rugby Union chief John O'Neill must really hate the English now!

Man of the match: Wallaby wing Lote Tuqiri had remarked that England had only one world-class player. That man, Jason Robinson, did have a fine game, but he was thoroughly outshone by his forwards. Egged on by a commanding performance form Andy Gomarsall, heroes to a man they were. Andy Sheridan, Nick Easter and Lewis Moody deserve special mention, but our man of the match is the omnipresent colossus that is Simon Shaw - built like a grand piano and gifted with the hands to play one.

Moment of the match: Surely the final whistle, it has been four years since we've seen such a happy group of Englishmen.

Villain of the match: A little niggle in the front row, but nothing too untowards. We'll slip this hideous gong under the door of Daniel Vickerman. He let the pressure get to him, and his judo move on Andy Gomarsall exemplified Australia's lost plot.

The scorers:

For Australia:

Try: Tuqiri

Con: Mortlock

Pen: Mortlock

For England:

Pens: Wilkinson 4

Australia: 15 Chris Latham, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Stirling Mortlock (c), 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 George Gregan, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 George Smith, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Daniel Vickerman, 4 Nathan Sharpe, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Matt Dunning.

Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Al Baxter, 18 Hugh McMeniman, 19 Stephen Hoiles, 20 Phil Waugh, 21 Julian Huxley, 22 Drew Mitchell.

England: 15 Jason Robinson, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Mike Catt, 11 Josh Lewsey, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Andy Gomarsall, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Martin Corry, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Phil Vickery (c), 2 Mark Regan, 1 Andrew Sheridan.

Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Matt Stevens, 18 Lawrence Dallaglio, 19 Joe Worsley, 20 Peter Richards, 21 Toby Flood, 22 Dan Hipkiss.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)

Touch judges: Paul Honiss (New Zealand), Nigel Owens (Wales)

Television match official: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Assessor: Tappe Henning (South Africa)

By Andy Jackson

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