Both teams went into Saturday’s Cook Cup rugby clash at Twickenham with two losses and one win to their name in their autumn international campaign but it was England who were under huge pressure to beat one of the “big three”.
To be honest, I think the fans were getting slightly bored of hearing phrases such as “We are nearly there” from the English coaches after another defeat last time out. For the Australians, it was a week of shock and mourning after the death of cricketer Phillip Hughes. Both countries still expected.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer but a win is a win and they all count.
England’s game management and decision-making got them where they wanted to be. They had been criticised for being too rigid in their play but “the manual” seemed to work on this occasion.
It was always going to be a physical game and England played to their strengths and dominated the scrum. Each player that was subbed off left the Twickenham pitch looking spent after a bruising encounter. Brad Barritt looked as though he’d gone 12 rounds with Rocky Balboa as half his face had been tenderised when he rattled Quade Cooper.
It’s called rugby football for a reason and the kicking out of hand from the half-backs gave England the field position they required and got them into the right areas.
They say a kick is only as good as its chase and this was something England must have been working on all week. George Ford replaced Owen Farrell at fly half and kicked 14 out of the 26 points. Ben Morgan was ferocious and put two tries on Michael Cheika’s men.
But Australia didn’t give up and kept chipping away at England who have made a habit of self-destructing, as recent matches have shown.
The centre partnership of Adam Ashley-Cooper and Matt Toomua asked significant questions of the hosts and they looked lethal in attack. England fell asleep a few times and the Wallabies exploited the holes in the defense on the inside channel with Bernard Foley making good line breaks and useful territory. One inside pass from Foley led to a break in midfield and the fly-half finished off the move, diving across the whitewash unchallenged.
The Green and Golds were right back in the game but even though they nipped at the heels of their opponent, England didn’t panic and showed a sense of maturity in most areas of play. However, attacking chances were squandered by England with both Watson and May dropping passes that could, and should, have ended in a try. It wasn’t entirely clinical again from England. Has this become the norm from their back-line or can these creases be ironed out before next year?
In all fairness though it now looks like England are making progress in their preparations to host the Rugby World Cup next year. To win at home where the English RFU is trying to make Twickenham a fortress again, is also a boost for morale.
Faith has been restored in Stuart Lancaster’s men and his management team. Was this game at Twickenham an important marker for when the two sides meet again in the World Cup pool stages? Of course it was. England have proved they can beat Australia. Anything but a win at home would have been a disaster for them. Any team is only as good as their last performance. England needs to use this game as a platform and need to win consistently now if they are going to progress past the quarter finals in their bid for Webb Ellis Cup glory,
IMAGE: England flanker Tom Wood (R) and Australia’s lock Rob Simmons (L) clash during the Autumn International rugby union Test match between England and Australia at Twickenham Stadium, London on November 29, 2014. England won the game 26-17. (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)