A triumph for collective will, but beware the individual failings

Coach's view
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The Independent Online

After all the talk of decoy runners and crossing, the real game was won, but so nearly lost, in the area of execution.

After all the talk of decoy runners and crossing, the real game was won, but so nearly lost, in the area of execution.

England's preferred style is always at its most dangerous in the first 30 minutes of any game. They play rugby on the edge at a high pace. It is ambitious and requires a high skill level. Yesterday in the first half they completely dominated the game, created a number of chances but converted only one. Once fatigue starts slightly to dull their edge – as it inevitably does – they are more vulnerable. But they are capable of putting away the best sides in the world in the first half-hour.

Yet it will be of grave concern that both Mike Tindall and Jason Robinson were culpable of missing or destroying a number of gilt-edged opportunities. The former lacks a certain fluency while the latter is beginning to take far too many poor options.

During the first half the Australian backs were completely anonymous for all but the last 10 seconds and their team were undeservedly close at the break. Within three minutes of the resumption everything had changed. Stephen Larkham cut the line and even the desperately ordinary Wendell Sailor could not fail to score from five yards out.

At that moment the balance of the match swung – the intercept by Elton Flatley and a penalty by Matthew Burke followed immediately. One minute England were cruising, the next their backs were well and truly up against the wall.

To their enormous credit they came back. Chipping away at a 12-point deficit they turned to that man Jonny Wilkinson. Yet again he did not disappoint. He struck every ball sweetly and never once looked like missing. Then came Ben Cohen, beautifully set up by the precocious talent that is James Simpson-Daniel. Cue the last 15 frantic minutes – time enough for Robinson to demonstrate once again that while he may be a sublime runner his passing skills leave something to be desired. Why on earth did he not feed the young winger in the final minute? Instead he chipped ahead and added his own contribution to a long list of poor tactical kicks that littered the afternoon.

Although they were incredibly competitive in the tackle area – with George Smith outstanding – Australia did not play well for long periods. England rattled them at both scrum and line-out, which meant they were denied their usual ration of quality ball. Nevertheless the likes of Daniel Herbert, Matthew Burke and Sailor were not at their best.

However, this game came down to desire and composure more than tactical nuances. Once England had spurned those early chances it turned into a dogfight – exactly the sort of game that England have blown in the past. Visions of Wembley, Murrayfield and Lansdowne Road loomed as they were rocked back.

But this time they steadied, regrouped and came again. Despite some woeful kicking they controlled the ball for the last 20 minutes and sensibly brought the forwards into the game. They still moved the ball about at a fair old lick but crucially, they played in the right areas of the field.

They needed to, because the referee, Paul Honiss, had a quite bizarre game. How one or two Aussies did not disappear to the bin within the first 30 minutes is something only he can explain. His interpretation of the law in the tackle area was inconsistent to the point of predictability. It would have been a terrible end to the game if it had all been decided by yet another strange decision.

Delighted as they will be with the victory, England will recognise they still have a great deal to improve upon. Matthew Dawson did some wonderful things but his service is still too unreliable. Will Greenwood took on too much in the way of tactical kicking, although he still produced moments of outstanding individual skill. The back row played well individually but may not have done enough as a unit to guarantee that they will all take the field next week.

But that is the beauty of this England. There were eight changes from the side that beat the Wallabies last year and those replaced are all still live contenders for a starting spot. With 12 Tests still to go before the World Cup, the omens are good.

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