Rugby Union: Missing Catt leaves cream to Wallabies

Just one point separates England and Australia at rugby but, at cricket, they're simply worlds apart
Click to follow
England 11 Australia 12

Try: Guscott Pens: Eales 4

Pens: Catt 2

Half-time: 3-3 Attendance: 48,000

A CLOSE-RUN thing, an exquisite try, shame about the rest. If ever a game will survive in the memory for one solitary moment of brilliance, this was it. But even that gem was followed by one crucial, unpardonable error which ultimately cost England the victory their play had probably deserved, although in terms of mediocrity there was little to separate the sides.

John Eales had just kicked his third penalty to restore the Wallabies lead 12 minutes from time, England immediately returned to the attack and for the first time succeeded in putting together enough passes to seriously disturb Australia's hitherto impregnable defence.

Austin Healey and Mike Catt set Matt Perry free. The full-back, having pranced through the Wallabies then had the additional and infinitely harder task of side-stepping a referee whose poor positioning was the least of his troubles on what was a dour day for him.

But back to the action. From Perry the ball went to the lumbering figure of Darren Garforth whose cheeks were as swollen as his chest as he tore through a couple of tackles. The ball came back for Catt to send Jeremy Guscott, who was close enough to his fly-half to pick his pocket, hurtling over the line.

This left Catt with the thoroughly simple task of kicking the conversion but, calamitously, he pulled it wide of the posts. With 10 minutes left to play, albeit against a side well below par, this was generous to a fault and, sure enough, four minutes from time Eales, whose kicking had lacked beauty but not accuracy, sent his fourth penalty between the posts from fully 40 yards to win the match.

The build-up to the day had been so promising. Land of Hope and Glory at full throttle and a display of pyrotechnics as England took the field to a tumultuous welcome promised a memorable occasion. Yet this was followed by 40 of the most execrable moments of rugby. Despite an improvement after the break, the second half could never quite erase the memory of that lamentable first half in which six points were scored and 27 penalties conceded. If, as many believe, the Australians on current form are the best side in the world then heaven preserve us from the worst.

Throughout the first half, and until he was replaced early in the second, the Australians were, admittedly, not helped by their hooker, Phil Kearns, who could not hit a barn door from five yards let alone a line-out in which he had at least three giants to aim at. On four occasions Australia lost their own line-out ball either because Kearns threw in crooked or because he was so off line that England stole possession. With the laws as they are this was a criminal waste of what should be rock-solid possession and as a result Australia struggled to find their rhythm.

Credit here to England's first-class defence and to a back row whose mobility and understanding caused no end of problems to the opposition. It was principally because of this unit that Australia found it so difficult to release their backs in the first half and on the rare occasions when they found space they invariably found enough Englishmen to resist them.

The Australians were equally well endowed when it came to the physical aspects of the game and the power of their tackling left its impact on a number of Englishmen. After half an hour Paul Grayson - who, like Catt after him, had missed a reasonably easy penalty - left the field and Catt immediately made an impression sending a beautifully flighted kick up to the Australian line. With Kearns so off key in the throwing department England's jumpers were salivating at the prospect of a try, but on this occasion the Wallabies made their own ball safe. But Catt was to play his part before half-time with a penalty to balance out Eales's opening kick in the sixth minute.

There had been brief glimmers of light amid the gloom, Guscott's touch on the accelerator and a burst of inspiration by Tony Underwood, but for the rest England's backs made little headway and Healey in particular was bereft of pace and ideas. By far the worst discovery, however, was yet to come - Catt is colour blind. This can be the only explanation for his superbly flighted pass in a good attacking position straight to the touch judge attired in a rather fetching blue.

But at least England began the second half more purposefully than either side had played throughout the first. They attacked from the restart exposing the cumbersome Australian forwards on the turn and when the tourists were caught offside in front of their posts Catt kicked his second penalty. It took all of 50 minutes for the Wallabies to cut loose. This was in part of course due to England's defence although it was also a reflection of the Wallabies inadequacies to say nothing of fatigue on the day.

Daniel Herbert sent Joe Roff away on the right but when the time came to deliver the scoring pass Roff muffed it. Australia did at least come away with something for their effort, Eales kicking his second penalty.

More important, however, was the fact that Australia had moved up a gear and had found a way at last through England's well marshalled and heavily committed defence. Shortly after Roff's surge Stephen Larkham and Herbert combined on another telling thrust through England's ranks and only Guscott's last-ditch tackle saved a try.

We were watching some tired Wallabies out there and a pitch made heavier by the morning rain added to their problems. Their inability to sustain the momentum they generated in that brief period was almost their undoing, and Guscott's try seemed for all the world to be the crowning and defining moment of the match. It was not to be. And that victory against southern hemisphere opponents still eludes England.

Perhaps next week.

England: M Perry (Bath); T Underwood (Newcastle), P de Glanville (Bath), J Guscott (Bath), A Healey (Leicester); P Grayson (Northampton), M Dawson (Northampton); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), M Johnson (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), N Back (Leicester), R Hill (Saracens). Replacements: M Catt (Bath) for Grayson, 34.

Australia: C Latham (Queensland); J Little (Queensland), D Herbert (Queensland), N Grey (New South Wales), J Roff (ACT); S Larkham (ACT), G Gregan (ACT); P Noriega (ACT), P Kearns (Queensland), A Blades (new South Wales), T Bowman (New South Wales), J Eales (Queensland, capt), M Cockbairn (Queensland), D Wilson (Queensland), T Kefu (Queensland). Replacements: M Foley (Queensland) for Kearns, 45; O Finegan (Queensland) for Cockbain, 50.

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).

Andrew Longmore and David Llewellyn, page 17