Rugby Union: Wilkinson the new blade in need of a switch back

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND FAILED to bring many positives out of this game but they can be sure of one thing - they can't go into the World Cup hoping to dominate up front. They must brush up their running game, and that demands the return of Will Greenwood in the centre and nailing Jonny Wilkinson to the outside-half position once and for all.

The late try from Matt Perry, one of England's few successes on the day, made the scoreline look fairly respectable, and I didn't think Wilson's try should have been allowed, but they mustn't kid themselves. They were convincingly beaten.

This is all the harder for them to bear because for the first half-hour it looked as if everything was going their way. Their forwards were strong and solid and in a mood to give the Australians nothing but grief. The defence was aggressive and organised and when Perry opened the scoring after 26 minutes everything looked great.

Perry's try was very well prepared and promised so much. It came from a fast second phase which created an overlap. There was a touch of obstruction before Mike Catt's beautiful pass to Perry but they got away with it in what was a lovely move.

Then they suddenly lost it and within 10 minutes Australia had claimed control of the game. There were a few encouraging flurries from England in the second half but their game was a mess in so many areas. The line- out revealed serious weaknesses I didn't think were possible. The kicking out of hand was worryingly aimless, players were kicking for no obvious reason apart from a lack of a better idea.

And, for the life of me, I can't understand what Clive Woodward is trying to do with the switching of roles between Wilkinson and Mike Catt. There is absolutely no logic to it and I've never known such a ploy to work at this level. I wrote last year that Wilkinson had to be given the No 10 shirt and persevered with through the Five Nations to give him the chance to become the controlling influence.

Now the World Cup is almost upon us and the youngster has little time to establish the confidence you must have to play well in that position. But do it he must if England are to rebuild the faith and optimism they will need to take on the world in October.

The two tries that Ben Tune scored in the last 10 minutes of the first half were like watching a nightmare unfold. Whereas the England drift defence had worked perfectly before, it slowed to a snail's pace with no communication going on. And it was this slow drift across that left Dan Luger at Tune's mercy. For some reason the England winger hung back even though Perry was there. When the ball found its way to Tune, Luger should have been in his face but he gave suicide space away to one of the game's great finishers.

Australia then scored again without an England player touching the ball. Apart, that is, from Mike Catt who failed with his re-start kick, and so gave Australia the scrum that led to Tune scoring again. It was a superb move across the Aussie back-line but, again, the England defence failed to oppose Tune properly, David Rees having stepped inside to tackle the centre. Scoring tries from set-pieces is very difficult these days but Australia were allowed to do it twice within ten minutes.

And I noticed that in both set-pieces Wilkinson was occupying the centre role. He should be organising the defence from the outside-half position and nowhere else. I shall be very surprised, shocked even, if they ever make that mistake again.

It is a bit late for England to be learning lessons as basic as these. Whereas Australia will now go confidently into the Tri-Nations series, where their game is going to be considerably honed and hardened, England are going back to the drawing board without much opportunity to put things right under battle conditions.