IT IS not often that a side scores five tries on foreign territory and leaves the field congratulating themselves on their defence, but England would not have recorded anything like a 25-point winning margin at Ballymore yesterday without manning the barricades with a passion. While Wallaby business on the far side of the continent in Perth deprived Queensland of their entire shop window - Daniel Herbert, Tim Horan and David Wilson were merely the tip of the missing iceberg - the Sunshine State's second-stringers shone so brightly that the tourists spent much of the game blinking in disbelief.
Two opportunist tries in the opening quarter, a real beauty from Dan Luger on 12 minutes and a second from Leon Lloyd five minutes later, helped England to a 17-point advantage for which they would be more than a little grateful come the end. The Queenslanders dominated both territory and possession for long periods of the first half and, even though Lloyd claimed a second try shortly before the break, they did not allow the injustice of it all to affect them. Indeed, they were every bit as threatening after the interval.
If Clive Woodward, the England coach, professed a degree of satisfaction afterwards, his words were heavily spun for public consumption. "We were on a hiding to nothing out there and we came through," he said. "People have been talking about banana skins this week and that was a pretty big banana skin. There were positives - I thought Martin Corry had a big game at No 8 and he'll get another chance to show us how good he is against the Wallabies in next weekend's Centenary Test - but, at the same time, we have a few things to work on before Saturday."
Not least the set-pieces, where England were expected to rule the roost. They failed to frighten Queensland at the scrummage - "They could step it up in that department, for sure, because they weren't at all aggressive," said Michael Foley, the home captain - and they were no great shakes at the line-out, either. Lawrence Dallaglio's enforced absence deprives the tourists of a flexible back jumper and unless Woodward and company come up with a few answers PDQ, one of Queensland's Test brigade, the athletic Matt Cockbain, could cause all sorts of grief in Sydney.
England were also given a serious hurry-up by Elton Flatley, who performed so brilliantly at outside-half that his confinement to the Queensland bench throughout the Super 12 tournament, not to mention his loss of Wallaby status, defied belief. Flatley gave both Lloyd and Luger the heebie-jeebies with a serious of perfectly flighted cross-field punts and, from one of them, Kelly Gordon registered the first Reds' try two minutes into the second half.
Not that the Australians were ever in the market for a victory. For all their early directness and territorial domination, they could not counter some supremely confident long-range attacking from Woodward's revamped back division. Kyran Bracken's swift blind-side scamper from his own 22 unlocked the door for Luger, whose straight-line speed was something to behold, while Lloyd finished handsomely from 40-odd metres after Jonny Wilkinson had run a penalty from deep. With the latter kicking goals with his usual withering accuracy, England were 17 points to the good when Matt Perry released the newcomer Lloyd once again with an exquisite pass off his right hand. Wilkinson made the running here, too, looping around Mike Catt and haring through a rare gap in the opposing midfield to create the opportunity.
Yet there was something curiously pedestrian about the English performance amid the hurly-burly up front. Richard Hill produced a minor masterpiece of a display in the back row - Corry's inexperience and Neil Back's idiosyncratic style means that the Saracens flanker is very much the engine of the new Dallaglio-less breakaway unit - but the tight five struggled to raise a genuine gallop. Maybe the early flurry of points persuaded them to stay in third gear and save the overdrive for Sydney. "If they weren't holding something back, they might find next week pretty difficult," said John Connolly, the Queensland coach.
At least the tourists were on the button with their last-ditch defence. During the period separating Jeremy Guscott's fine 47th-minute finish and Victor Ubogu's less balletic score nine minutes from time, they were entirely on the back foot, yet Hill's unquenchable enthusiasm for the fray and Wilkinson's fearless tackling in midfield denied Queensland the points their fine approach work deserved.
Queensland ultimately forced a consolatory try in injury time when John Watkins, their replacement prop, found his way across the English line from all of three and a half feet. "We deserved that, at least," said Connolly. "I've won games and been disappointed with our performance, but I can't remember being quite as happy on the back of a 25-point defeat."
Queensland: N Williams; D Smith, R West, K Gordon, R Nalatu; E Flatley, S Cordingley; N Stiles, M Foley (capt), A Heath, B Cockbain, N Sharpe, J Stafford, M Connors, M Murray. Replacements: M Mitchell for Cockbain, 58; B Cannon for Foley, 60; R Graham for Williams, 60; L Hammond for Stafford, 63; J Watkins for Heath, 72; T Sampson for Gordon 75; J Rauluni for Cordingley, 75.
England: M Perry (Bath); L Lloyd (Leicester), J Guscott (Bath), M Catt (Bath), D Luger (Saracens); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), K Bracken (Saracens); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), M Johnson (Leicester, capt), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens), M Corry (Leicester), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: M Tindall (Bath) for Guscott, 56; M Dawson (Northampton) for Bracken, 56; P Greening (Sale) for Cockerill, 56; D Grewcock (Saracens) for Rodber, 56; A Healey (Leicester) for Perry, 69; V Ubogu (Bath) for Garforth, 69; J Worsley (Wasps) for Back, 69.
Referee: S Dickinson (Australia).Reuse content