England 12 Australia 10: Champions shock the world with Wallaby mauling

Heroic effort from Ashton's much-maligned troops sends England on to the semi-finals
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The Independent Online

For Sir Clive Woodward, read plain old Brian Ashton? For Sydney read Paris four years on?

Anything seems possible after England, unrecognisable from the dross they delivered in the pool stage, came up with pure gold to beat Australia, again, in the quarter-finals here yesterday. It was a 22-carat performance and if it was not quite déjà vu it was uncomfortably close.

And here's Jonny again, kicking four penalties to mortally wound the Wallabies in a phenomenal victory. Wilkinson's left boot delivered 12 points, the whole of Australia 10 although, of course, it was more complicated than that. England, if not so much in attack, were magnificent in defence and pulverising in the scrum, where man of the match Andrew Sheridan shredded the Australian front row.

In 2003, England's detractors argued that on the night of 22 November relentless rain enabled the Red Rose brigade to blossom. Well, yesterday in Provence there was barely a cloud in the sky on a scorching afternoon. When they got the ball, which was not half as often as they would have liked, the Wallabies, with strong runners all over the place, often looked dangerous but – and this time they have no excuses – their handling and ball retention was almost as appalling as their scrum. The number of times they knocked on, lost possession or conceded turnovers at the breakdown was astonishing, especially given the conditions. The only explanation was the pressure of the occasion and the ferocity of England's commitment. In the semi-finals in Paris next Saturday, Les Rosbifs will again be centre stage and more and more supporters will be following in the path of the sweet chariot.

For Ashton, often ashen-faced in this tournament, it was probably the sweetest moment of his long career. In a tactical confrontation with John Connolly, between two former coaches of Bath, Connolly, who is now retiring, came off a poor second.

At Twickenham in 2005, Sheridan, the Charles Atlas of the front row, helped to destroy the Australian scrum. The Wallabies thought they had fixed the problem but yesterday they discovered they hadn't. There was a problem at virtually every scrum, usually collapsing, and it was invariably the Australians who were on the receiving end.

Ashton, whose Midas touch extended to the replacements he made in the second half, said: "I am so pleased for this group of players who have worked so hard for the rewards they have got since the defeat to South Africa."

You need to rub your eyes and scramble your brain to recall that England were smashed by the Springboks 36-0. "Of course we talked about what happened against South Africa," Ashton said, "but there was no major surgery. We simplified the blueprint." And how.

The only try of the match arrived in the 32nd minute. Given the possession and inventiveness of England it could or should have been scored by somebody in a white jersey, but instead it went to the Australia wing Lote Tuqiri, the player who scored his country's only try in the final in 2003. Berrick Barnes, the 21-year-old replacement for the injured Stephen Larkham, did a nice show and go to the right; Stirling Mortlock, Australia's captain, found some space and when the ball reached Tuqiri he shrugged off Josh Lewsey and touched down in the corner. It was about the only tackle England missed all day. Mortlock's conversion from an acute angle was an added bonus for the Wallabies.

The England forwards had taken the game to Australia and then some for most of the first half and if they failed to score a try it wasn't through lack of imagination. What they did not expect or need was an inexplicable blip on the radar from Wilkinson, who missed penalties in the 27th and 37th minutes, kicks that would, deservedly, have given England the lead at the interval.

What made Wilkinson's misses more galling is that he had watched Mortlock, who had given Australia the lead in the fifth minute with a penalty, miss the target with two other attempts, after which Australia were at panic stations. Wilkinson looked in prime form when he converted England's possession and territorial dominance into a 6-3 lead on 24 minutes.

The first scrum of the match arrived in the 10th minute and it collapsed no fewer than three times, after which Phil Vickery needed treatment and the Australians received a penalty from the referee, Alain Rolland. The Wallabies would not get much sympathy after that.

After Mortlock – he kicked one penalty from four attempts, Wilkinson four from seven – had hooked a shot at goal, Simon Shaw, playing the game of his life, offloaded to Jason Robinson and only a timely tackle by George Gregan prevented a try. There was a pattern developing and it was usually in England's favour. When they won another turnover in the 20th minute, Wilkinson's penalty levelled it at 3-3 and four minutes later, when another scrum was mashed, Wilkinson put England ahead at 6-3.

Australia went into a huddle, and it was about the only thing that didn't collapse. Eight minutes before the break Tuqiri's try gave Australia the edge, but not for long. For the first scrum in the second half Australia were again in desperate straits and their frustration erupted in a punch-up involving four or more players.

England's pressure did not lift, and after 51 minutes Wilkinson, who had taken a big hit, got groggily to his feet, dusted himself down and banged over his third penalty, from a comfortable range, to make it 10-9.

Andy Gomarsall then gave England a great chance with a cross kick into the sun. The Australians knocked on which, of course, presented them with another huge problem. It was called a scrum, from which they conceded another penalty which Wilkinson kicked to give England a two-point lead after 60 minutes.

Wilkinson, Gomarsall and Mike Catt at one point all needed the attention of the medics, but England's ascendancy was such that they had been awarded nine penalties in a row and Australia could not break the shackles. Their handling went from bad to worse and even Gregan, possibly the most experienced player in the World Cup, was guilty. When he lost the ball at a scrum he conceded another penalty and from halfway Wilkinson, who again received treatment, missed.

So it came to the climax and with just a few minutes remaining Australia won a penalty not far from the halfway line but at an angle. Mortlock went for it. He struck it well but the ball flew just left of the posts. It was entirely typical that the match finished with an Australian knock-on. They were on their knees. England are heading for Paris.

England: J Robinson; P Sackey, M Tait, M Catt, J Lewsey; J Wilkinson, A Gomarsall; A Sheridan, M Regan, P Vickery (capt), S Shaw, B Kay, M Corry, N Easter, L Moody. Replacements: P Richards for Gomarsall, 21-28; G Chuter for Regan, 52; M Stevens for Vickery, 59; T Flood for Catt, 64; J Worsley for Moody, 65; L Dallaglio for Easter, 69.

Australia: C Latham; A Ashley-Cooper, S Mortlock (capt), M Giteau, L Tuqiri, B Barnes, G Gregan; M Dunning, S Moore, G Shepherdson, N Sharpe, D Vickerman, R Elsom, W Palu, G Smith. Replacements: H McMeniman for Vickerman, 28-30 & for Elsom, 64; A Baxter for Shepherdson, 64; P Waugh for Smith, 64; D Mitchell for Ashley-Cooper, 64; A Freier for Moore, 72; S Hoiles for Palu, 75.

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

Man for man marking by Martin Pengelly

ENGLAND

7 Jason Robinson, Whacked most times he got the ball, but made one lovely break in the first half and stood up well defensively.

7 Paul Sackey, Shoulder-charged by George Smith early, decision to come infield and make a body-block of his own saved a try later. Solid.

7 Mathew Tait, Creative back may be slightly chagrined to make less in attack than Simon Shaw. Big "D", though, as they say in the trade.

7 Mike Catt, If he was 26, not 36, a couple of first-half half-breaks might have been full ones. Never mind; led the line superbly.

7 Josh Lewsey, Tad scrappy, but latest positional switch meant he did well just to remember his boots.

7 Jonny Wilkinson, Battered, bruised, radar badly off when kicking from the right... he even missed a drop goal. Kick that mattered went over, however.

8 Andy Gomarsall, Shirt looked like a butcher's slab early on, but the scrum-half only needed a butcher's at George Gregan's laboured service before taking control at the base.

9 Andrew Sheridan, "Big Ted" finally ditched the overly-cuddly act and reduced Matt Dunning to his constituent parts. Again. Bullocked about in the loose to thoroughly splendid effect. Man of the match.

8 Mark Regan, As Leeds fans used to say, he's an annoying little git... but he's our annoying little git. The Aussies were right to worry about the belligerent Bristol hooker.

8 Phil Vickery, Justified his recall in place of Matt Stevens as part of a totally superior forward effort. That, Wallaby coach John Connolly, is a proper prop. Parity? Schmarity.

8 Simon Shaw, Fantastic effort: a number of deft touches set up attacks in the backs but he worked hard up front too. A Super 14-style lock with Premiership-bred power.

7 Ben Kay, Excellent effort, as the Wallaby line-out held up much better than the scrum. Got his posterior in gear in broken play.

8 Martin Corry, Putting on that "noble but pained in defeat" face must be a little trying. Disappeared into the mêlée and emerged smiling for once, job thoroughly done.

8 Lewis Moody, Not a genuine open-side flanker? Perhaps not, but he drove George Smith, a very genuine open-side, out of the game. Neither is he, shall we say, a particularly "cerebral" player. So?

8 Nick Easter, A fine effort from the mighty Quin; made a couple of crucial snatches and in a pack so dominant, No 8 is a nice place to be. His best game in an England shirt.

Replacements

6 George Chuter, On for Regan, the join was barely visible.

6 Matt Stevens, On for Vickery and into the scrum which won the penalty which won the game.

6 Lawrence Dallaglio, Came on and knocked-on, but an Aussie scrum wasn't going to be a problem.

6 Joe Worsley, His hand gave away a late penalty... which Stirling Mortlock missed. Lucky boy.

6 Peter Richards, On briefly early on as Gomarsall was stitched up.

6 Toby Flood, Into action a month late. Got stuck in like a good 'un.

Dan Hipkiss, Not used.

AUSTRALIA

6 Chris Latham, Kicks, Aussie-rules style, like no one else and when his socks come down you know the game is on. Unfortunately it was also up, as a missed drop goal suggested.

4 Adam Ashley-Cooper, Dropped a kick-off, tackled Sackey in the air and missed a high ball before the vital penalty. Probably got both barrels from the coaches afterwards.

5 Stirling Mortlock, Back from a partially dislocated shoulder to find his kicking almost as far out of joint. Also contained, pretty much, by Tait, who's half his size.

5 Matt Giteau, If you keep a guy this talented this quiet, you're halfway there. Couldn't cook up trouble with what chances he had.

6 Lote Tuqiri, Very strong finish for the only try of the game, and his only try of the tournament. Australia just couldn't give him the ball.

6 Berrick Barnes, Got what he didn't get against Wales on his debut: a flanker, Moody more often than not, in his chops whenever he saw the ball. Still, set the try up well.

4 George Gregan, Not the best way to finish a superb Test career. The scrum-half had an awful time behind a knackered pack.

4 Matt Dunning, Points and pleads like no one else. Milked a couple of early scrum penalties but then it all went horribly, horribly wrong.

5 Stephen Moore, At one point Alain Rolland had to tell the hooker to push back. Tackled well, considering the pasting he was taking.

4 Guy Shepherdson, Didn't have to face Sheridan – did have to face Vickery, who was being boosted from behind by Shaw. Ah, well.

5 Nathan Sharpe, Line-out work held up but the second row is only a marginally less unpleasant place to be than the front under such a squeeze in the scrummage.

4 Daniel Vickerman, Gave away two knuckleheaded penalties before someone else's knuckles on his head helped him off the field.

5 Rocky Elsom, Drove hard and well in the build-up to Tuqiri's try but his lunge conceded the vital penalty.

4 George Smith, Beaten by Moody, his charge on Sackey may attract a citing. Not so good.

5 Wycliff Palu, Contrast to Easter: No 8 is not a nice place to be in a pack so despondent. Fought hard.

Replacements

5 Adam Freier, On for Moore and darted about a bit.

5 Al Baxter, On for Shepherdson and unable to make things better.

5 Hugh McMeniman, Sledger-in-chief went downhill with his mates.

5 Stephen Hoiles, Replaced Palu and looked like a likely-ish lad.

5 Phil Waugh, Perennial back-up to Smith was on too late to help out.

5 Drew Mitchell, On late for one break and one poor kick.

Julian Huxley, Not used.

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