With a little luck, a lot of perseverance and some tasty timing for Chris Robshaw and Owen Farrell each to score their first tries for their country, England kicked off their autumn programme with a deserved win that cemented their third place in the world rankings and kept Australia from taking it from them.
World Cups past and future loomed over an expectant English headquarters as the glory boys of 2003 were feted, and the still burgeoning team of today, with only just over 200 caps in their starting XV, set out on a two year path to meeting Australia in a pool here that will also include Wales.
With Tom Croft and Manu Tuilagi injured, England gave Joel Tomkins a first cap, and first home starts to Marland Yarde and Billy Vunipola. Who knows how many will still be here in 2015. In the here and now each contributed solidly to a satisfying if not pyrotechnically stunning victory.
“We started well then lost momentum,” said Robshaw, the England captain, whose try early in the second half was followed within eight minutes by Farrell’s. “I was very happy to get on the scoreboard and very proud of all the guys.”
Unusually in a modern-day Test, the Australians who had won on three of their four previous visits, stayed on the pitch for their half-time chat. Maybe they were unimpressed by the Twickenham changing rooms and tunnel redecorated overtly in St George white and red. It was certain they had no interest in helping the crowd applaud the sedate lap of honour taken by England’s 2003 world cup winners, with Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson and the rest suited and booted and taking the affectionate acclaim.
The Wallabies had a 13-6 lead at that stage, thanks in part to their fly-half Quade Cooper landing all three of his kicks – penalties after nine and 34 minutes, plus the conversion of his midfield mate Matt Toomua’s 31st minute try – while his England counterpart Farrell missed three from five. Farrell’s initial wobbles were a worry midway through the half, with a pair of kicks going wide from the same spot 45 metres out and then a third that struck the left-hand post.
However the ricochet produced an unexpected attacking position for England, as a poor clearance in the confusion allowed a first run for Yarde, backed up by a charge from Billy Vunipola who had Joe Launchbury as his wingman. It led to another kick for Farrell, this time successfully in the 22, kicked while Australia’s captain Ben Mowen received a lecture from the referee George Clancy over the mounting penalty count against his team. A couple of them came in the scrummage but the line-out was much less rewarding to England. Their choice of Courtney Lawes to run operations was a gamble on getting their most athletic players on the pitch; the spotlight was more on Tom Youngs when two throws to the primary jumper Tom Wood went over the flanker’s head. Athelticism is fine but accuracy counts too. Some kind of game plan was clear, though, as Vunipola and his brother Mako at prop were carrying the ball hard into the Wallabies, as expected.
So from England leading 6-3, they were behind before the interval. And both Aussies scores derived from the set-piece. A scrum led to the dangerous Isreal Folau bursting past a soft tackle by Chris Ashton and from a ruck near the goalline Toomua, standing two men out, received a flat pass and beat another dodgy tackle by Billy Twelvetrees. Then a line-out and a short Aussie drive set up Cooper pirouetting in midfield into a tackle that drew Twelvetrees into diving off his feet. Cooper had kicked everything in what was said to be a morale boosting 41-33 loss for Australia to New Zealand in a roofed-over Dunedin stadium a few weeks ago. He didn’t look like missing much here either despite a blustery wind, but that was before a scoreless second half for his tiring team.
Cooper’s run ended on 46 minutes, with a shank to the left and this respite, coincidentally or otherwise, shook England out of the torpor that they would probably argue was rust from not playing together properly since March. There were blunders to endure: Ashton and Brown made a mess of launching one counter then Ashton threw a pass along the ground after a quick tap.
But when Brown fortunately got away with a foot in touch to start another long-range raid it led at length to England’s opening try in the 50th minutes. Yarde was tackled into touch near the corner flag by Ashley-Cooper, the throw when it was eventually taken (there was treatment and a stretcher needed for Australia’s Scott Fardy) Lawes timed his jump perfectly to get a hand in the way, and Genia’s box kick was charged down by Mako Vunipola’s right hand with a wonderfully kind bounce to English eyes going straight to Chris Robshaw. The home captain still had to gather the ball in low to the ground and dive over but he did it with alacrity and Farrell converted for 13-13.
Eight minutes later England had their second try. No luck this time, it was carefully constructed through pressure and field position. Farrell’s raking kick obliged Australia to throw to a line-out in their 22. Toomua kicked clear from that but now England had an attacking platform. Launchbury lived up to the first syllable of his name with a mighty jump, the play moved left where Brown was briefly shackled, but coming back across the field the ball found Farrell with a gap to run through to score after a momentary weighing up of his options. The television match official Marshall Kilgore checked to see whether Dylan Hartley, one of three replacements just on for England and returning to the scene of his red card misery in May’s Premiership final, had illegally blocked Moore off. No was the answer and Farrell’s conversion gave England a seven-point advantage.
More replacements on meant it was a new-look England pack that gave the Wallabies a final pasting at some late scrums, much to Twickenham’s delight. One or two gnarled veterans of 2003 were smiling inside at that, too, no doubt. A day for sedate celebration, all round.
England: M Brown; C Ashton, J Tomkins, B Twelvetrees (T Flood 67), M Yarde; O Farrell, L Dickson (B Youngs 55); M Vunipola (J Marler 55), T Youngs (D Hartley 55), D Cole (D Wilson 67), J Launchbury (D Attwood 76), C Lawes, T Wood, C Robshaw (capt), B Vunipola (B Morgan 67).
Australia: I Folau; A Ashley-Cooper (B Foley 50-54), T Kuridrani, M Toomua, N Cummins; Q Cooper, W Genia (N White 67); J Slipper (B Robinson 58), S Moore (S Fainga’a 69), B Alexander (S Kepu 51), S Timani (K Douglas 62), J Horwill, S Fardy (B McCalman 50), M Hooper, B Mowen (capt).
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).