Rugby Union: English Lions on last legs

Australia 25 England 6: De Glanville backs embattled Rowell a s weary tourists succumb to Australians' power and pace
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The Independent Online
England have found the rugby grounds of Australia as barren and unwelcoming as the Gibson Desert since they first started hunting Wallabies in their native habitat more than 30 years ago, so it was not entirely surprising that they plumbed new depths of lifelessness here last night. Jaded, jet-lagged and carrying aches and pains in every joint thanks to the rigours of a seven-week haul around South Africa, the vast majority of Phil de Glanville's rag-tag army finally disappeared without trace against opponents who, at times, looked barely half-alive themselves.

The Wallabies took an age to apply the tin lid to a soporific affair, George Gregan and Tim Horan running in long-range tries in the final quarter to bury the last remnants of English resistance. In much the same way as the Springboks out-gunned the Lions on the try-scoring front, the home side crossed four times without reply. That statistical similarity was just about the only one, however; whereas the Lions built and manned their own barricades with the bold fervour of a revolutionary mob, England simply ran out of steam in a flurry of missed tackles and butter-fingered catching.

Not that there was a shortage of effort. Once again, Lawrence Dallaglio and Mark Regan gave unsparingly of themselves in the face of a torrent of opposition possession and a territorial disadvantage bordering on the embarrassing. So grimly determined were they that when Mike Catt dropped a goal in the 55th minute, England were just two points adrift at 6- 8.

Unlike the Lions, though, they were unable to complete the miraculous process of manufacturing a silk purse from a sow's ear. Rather, they came face to face with the law of diminishing returns, and when de Glanville, usually so secure in defence, completely missed Ben Tune and allowed the wing a soft try in the left corner, the writing was on the wall in six- foot capitals.

Given the fact that England took precisely 46 minutes to break into the Australian 22, they could not complain at the way the game ran away from them at ever-increasing velocity. Neither did they attempt to do so. "We just couldn't get our hands on the ball and, on the odd occasion that we did manage it, we didn't take enough care," said Dallaglio, once again the outstanding English forward. "It wasn't the easiest Test for us to play but we knew it was on the agenda. There are no excuses, but we're a better side than we appeared out there."

For one brief spell, and one only, the visitors did look like carrying out the sort of smash-and-grab raid that gave the Lions their staggering series victory over the Springboks. Five points adrift at the break, they introduced Austin Healey for the severely battered Matt Dawson and the impish Leicester scrum-half immediately slipped away from David Wilson and streaked upfield at characteristically high-octane pace. Cleverly, he chipped Matt Burke, only to find the big full-back's shoulder lingering with intent. Penalty try? Not a chance. Paddy O'Brien, the New Zealand referee, gave England next to nothing all evening.

Irrespective of that disappointment, Nick Greenstock, the Wasps centre, managed to keep the England pot boiling by sliding a fine kick to within a metre of the Wallaby line. Sadly, Nigel Redman and Simon Shaw found John Eales, the Australian lock, in his pomp at the line-out. So brilliant was the Queenslander at the set-piece that the visitors might just as well have saved themselves the trouble by simply handing him the ball.

Catt's drop gave England a transfusion of hope, but Tune's try on the hour proved the killer. Three minutes later, Burke found Tune with a quality pass out of Richard Hill's covering tackle and as Healey attempted to haul back the Queensland wing down the right touchline, Gregan was up in support to take the scoring pass and gallop in untouched from 30 metres.

A good try, but nowhere near good enough to enthuse a 41,000 Sydney crowd more intent on their Mexican waves than anything on the pitch. Still, there was one more dash of class to inspire those who had managed to maintain an interest: Horan, nowhere near as potent at outside-half as he once was in the centre, nevertheless hit Joe Roff with a superb pass under pressure and then raced up on his wing's shoulder to take the return and outstrip the panting Dallaglio en route to the line.

For de Glanville, in particular, it was a rough night at the end of a rough week. Denied a place with the Lions, he worked manfully to restore links with his countrymen as they flew in triumphantly from Johannesburg, only to allow his own high standards to slip on the big night. Not only did he gift Tune his try, but he was also largely at fault as Roff worked Burke over for the opening strike in the 11th minute.

Indeed, the captain made a more lasting impression by reaffirming his support for Jack Rowell, whose future as national coach was debated so insensitively during the build-up to the match. "Jack has done a good job and the players respect him," said the Bath centre. "What went on this week was not good, either for the squad or, once again, for the reputation of the Rugby Football Union."

A sour note on which to end a remarkable summer for British and Irish rugby, but the political animals of the RFU have spent the last year proving that they are incapable of making sweet music. It will get worse before it gets better.

Australia: M Burke (New South Wales); B Tune (Queensland), J Little (Queensland), J Holbeck (ACT), J Roff (ACT); T Horan (Queensland), G Gregan (ACT); C Blades (New South Wales), M Foley (Queensland), E McKenzie (ACT), G Morgan (Queensland), J Eales (Queensland, capt), D Manu (New South Wales), T Coker (ACT), B Robinson (ACT). Replacement: A Blades (New South Wales) for McKenzie, 66.

England: T Stimpson (Newcastle); J Bentley (Newcastle), N Greenstock (Wasps), P de Glanville (Bath, capt), N Beal (Northampton); M Catt (Bath), M Dawson (Northampton); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), D Garforth (Leicester), N Redman (Bath), S Shaw (Wasps), L Dallaglio (Wasps), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens). Replacements: A Healey (Leicester) for Dawson, H-T; B Clarke (Richmond) for Hill, 69.

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand)