Rugby Union: Catt claws back the pride

Error-prone start for Woodward era but England draw solace from inspiration of Bracken and Perry; England 15 Australia 15 Pens: Catt 5 Tries: Gregan, Tune Pens: Roff Cons: Roff; Half-time: 9-5 Attendance: 75,000
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The Independent Online
It wasn't remotely pretty and for most of the match it wasn't very good. In fact, it is hard to remember an international match in which there were so many elementary errors and crass tactical decisions.

For all that, England's new dawn may not be entirely false. True, they failed to score a try, Mike Catt kicking five penalty goals to the Wallabies two tries, a conversion and a penalty goal, but by salvaging a draw on the stroke of 80 minutes from a befuddled Catt, who had been felled in the most cynical fashion by the Wallaby full-back Stephen Larkham following one of the fly-half's numerous fine breaks, England's pride is intact.

To then call up Catt a couple of minutes later to attempt to win the match from within his own half was asking a bit much and very nearly rebounded on England when the Wallabies, having run the ball back to the halfway line, then had the chance to win. Fortunately for England, the Wallabies' goalkicking was comfortably the worst part of their game and Joe Roff, as John Eales his skipper had done on four previous occasions, missed the kick.

Let us first be positive. England are at the embryo stage in their development under a new coach, a new captain and sprinkled with players who were untried and untested at this level. It was only natural, therefore, that there should be a degree of tactical naivety, lack of control and, at times, a blind panic. But for their determination not to be deflected from the path of adventure England must be heartily applauded. If Kyran Bracken, whose protection of Catt and whose passing and kicking were almost faultless, was the undisputed star of the side, Matt Perry's speed on defensive patrol, his tackling which twice saved England after they had been put through the shredder up front, and his sheer audacity, were admirable.

So was Catt's unfailing optimism which carried him through some horrid moments into patches of artistry. He broke through twice and on both occasions England might have scored had Larkham not blocked his pass and had Adedayo Adebayo not spilled what might have been a scoring pass in the first half. Adebayo eventually had to leave the field, dazed in a tackle on the Australian line, but this was not a match he will remember with any affection. His replacement Austin Healey gave England a sharper edge both in attack and in defence.

Praise, too, for England's back row, which concealed all manner of cracks and had just enough digits in the dyke to keep their front five afloat. This was just as well because far too often the ship seemed ready to sink as the scrummage repeatedly buckled in the face of Wallaby pressure. Somehow they held out until half-time when Andy Long, the young hooker winning his first cap, was replaced by Richard Cockerill. This gave England a harder edge but, no matter how enterprising the tactical plan, nothing can be achieved without some measure of control up front. If England were clearly at a disadvantage in the scrum, they were also uncharacteristically uncertain at the line-out. Perhaps they were intimidated by the presence of Eales, but with a greasy ball, some indifferent throwing and uncoordinated lifting, it was back to the old days of the line-out lottery, which yesterday the Australians won.

With the sterner tests ahead, this must be extremely worrying for England and given the fact that the Australians are reckoned to be the weakest of England's three opponents in the series, there can be no great confidence about the forthcoming results. For sure, the All Blacks will not surrender anything like the amount of possession recklessly wasted by the Wallabies yesterday. Nor will they be so reluctant to counterattack from the possession England aimlessly kicked away. The fact is that the Wallabies performed only fitfully and for most of the game fell a long way short of the standards they have set themselves in recent times.

We saw them at their best with George Gregan's try. It was savagely swift and lethally executed. A high ball which Perry could not control and in a lightning interchange of passes between the scrum-half and Tim Horan, Gregan was over the line for the try. Ben Tune's try midway through the second half was again the result of incisive running and speedy support by the Australians, followed by a perfectly timed switch with Horan who, despite his grievous injury problems, has lost none of his edge in attack and none of his appetite for murderous defence. Seldom, though, were the Wallabies able to sustain the flowing passages of play which might have made England suffer. Time and again they surrendered hard-won possession to grateful opponents. The game was riddled with fundamental errors which unfortunately concealed many of the finer points.

England led 9-5 at half-time, Catt's three penalty goals giving them a cushion, although not a very comfortable one, against Gregan's try, but no one could blame England for their lack of enterprise. When Catt was given the opportunity of a kick at goal from 35 yards, he opted to run and set off thrillingly for the corner but the move came to a halt with Adebayo.

Perry was also mixing the wincingly embarrassing with the sublimely cheeky, and Will Greenwood was always menacing. Once, with half Australia fair on his back, he ploughed a good 20 yards upfield. The pattern continued throughout the second half and although the final moments were exciting enough, there was an ominous air of foreboding when the final whistle blew.

England: M Perry (Bath); D Rees (Sale), W Greenwood (Leicester), P De Glanville (Bath), A Adebayo (Bath); M Catt (Bath), K Bracken (Saracens); J Leonard (Harlequins), A Long (Bath), W Green (Wasps), M Johnson (Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), R Hill (Saracens), T Diprose (Saracens). Replacements: P Grayson (Northampton) for De Glanville, 8-24; R Cockerill (Leicester) for Long, 16-17 and 40; A Healey (Leicester) for Adebayo, 65.

Australia: S Larkham (ACT); B Tune (Queensland), T Horan (Queensland), P Howard (ACT), J Roff (ACT); E Flatley (Queensland), G Gregan (ACT); R Harry (New South Wales), M Foley (Queensland), A Blades (New South Wales), J Langford (New South Wales), J Eales (Queensland, capt), O Finegan (ACT), B Robinson (ACT), W Ofahengaue (New South Wales). Replacements: A Heath (New South Wales) for Foley, 55.

Referee: A Watson (South Africa).