First of all, congratulations to Australia. That was a magnificent performance and they have sent out a resounding warning to the rest of the competition that they are the side to beat.
This was as good a match as Australia have played in a Rugby World Cup since their semi final win against the All Blacks in 2003.
It would be easy to lay into England for their display but their problems were brought on by a phenomenal performance by Australia. Michael Cheika has managed to perform miracles in 12 months, especially after the controversial end to Ewen McKenzie`s tenure, let alone the struggles of Robbie Dean`s reign.
Cheika has quite quietly gone about his business by concentrating on the well-worn subject of the scrum by bringing Mario Ledesma onboard, and what an investment that has been. The confrontation up front was always going to be a contentious area and Ben Morgan, Australia`s destroyer in the autumn, will be eating some humble pie by making the cardinal error of stating that the Wallabies would be scared of England`s front five.
Very rarely does mouthing off against your opponents work in any sport. Too many times it comes back to bite you on the behind and I was surprised to see England fire shots at Australia, having suffered such a disastrous defeat to the Welsh last weekend. Surely Lancaster should have insisted that his team put up and shut up and do your talking on the pitch. Ben Youngs and Danny Cipriani did not help the PR exercise either later on in the week.
The talk before the game was how tight this game was going to be and how England could deal with the almost unbearable pressure bestowed upon them with so much on the line. A positive start with solid meters gained in the opening salvos seemed to suggest that England were going to use the grandeur of the occasion to their benefit. Enter, Bernard Foley, a thus far not well known stand-off floating around in the World Cup. What a match this young man had. Watching him pull the strings expertly throughout the game was like watching Michael Lynagh in his pomp, such was his maturity.
In truth, it would be difficult to pick out individuals, save for one – David Pocock. It is well documented what an impressive bloke this guy is. Having been banished from his homeland in Zimbabwe due to Mugabe`s henchmen, he is at the forefront of social issues which are so often brushed under the carpet. From handcuffing himself to coal machinery to defending homosexual rites, he also doubles up as one of the best backrowers of the modern era. No mean feat with two knee reconstructions behind him and endless hours of painstaking rehabilitation. I remember writing about his virtuoso performance in the quarter finals against the Springboks in 2011. This one was even more significant given the enormity of the match and the fine lines of the ever evolving modern day turnover battle.
Where to now for England?
So what of English rugby and more significantly the futures of Chris Robshaw, Stuart Lancaster? As a proud pom it hurts, to say the least, to see England dumped so humiliatingly out of our home World Cup.
It could be argued the writing was on the wall when Lancaster picked a squad lacking in genuine game breakers. Not selecting England`s two best players in Danny Cipriani and Nick Easter, after both played blinders in the warm up defeat to France, was a sign of things to come. Also jettisoned were Messrs Eastmond, Burrell and the exciting Elliot Daly, all of whom are capable of producing magic out of nothing.
Having a team of grafters can win you many games but to win a World Cup you need x-factor players at crucial times. Seeing England`s bench for the last two games saddened me, and I daresay all England fans, over Lancaster`s criminally conservative approach. Not having Danny Care, the ridiculously underused Henry Slade and Jamie George stank of blurred management thinking, which is still hard to fathom.
Of course, the selection of Sam Burgess will rankle with many, but I see the arguments from both sides. Such was the significance or confusion of his place among the match day 22, one feels that all members of the squad, including the initial 50 players going into camp beforehand, may not have been too happy. The centres were the most contentious position in the World Cup for England, Jonathan Joseph an honorable exception.
England looked pedestrian and lacking in direction in this World Cup. One cannot fault their commitment but in comparison to the Wallabies, it was men against boys. Sadly, if I were to put heads, on the line of which there will be a few, it would be Robshaw first over Lancaster. Robshaw is as an honest toiler but he is not an international class number 7. He looked horribly exposed against Warburton and Hooper and therefore England must look for a specialist openside if they are to compete for the 2019 World Cup.
English rugby needs to take a look at how the national cricket team changed direction earlier this summer against the New Zealanders as a potential footprint to follow. They should be bold in selection, investing in youth and spark of which there is a refreshingly good spread in the England premiership (and certain players involved in the Top 14, but that is for another time). There may be a few losses along the way but England are in danger of being left behind the super powers if they do not make some serious changes.
This then leaves the question of Stuart Lancaster. He is a good man and has done positive things for English rugby since taking the reigns in 2011. That said, there is no other way of looking at this exit other than a complete disaster for English rugby and there are no excuses. The buck stops with Lancaster and unfortunately that means finding someone who can ignite the men in white again.
Wallabies go forth
Australia are in rude health and they will approach the knock out stages massively confident of going all the way. They will be battle hardened from this group of death and they will be safe in the knowledge that their nearest rivals have been coughing and spluttering their way through the group stages.
The Wallabies seem to have the right blend of experience, youth and talent to be able to raise their game through the finals. Hooper, Folau and Pocock remain pivotal to their hopes but they crucially have strength in depth, which not many of their rivals have.
One cannot underestimate what a hugely significant win this was for Cheika and his squad. Australian rugby is on the move again and few would bet against them toppling the All Blacks on this form, if we are to assume that they meet in the final.
What we all hope for is that the terrific atmosphere generated so far during this tournament does not peter out with the exit of England. We need the crowds to keep coming, as there is so much superb rugby to look forward to.