Bloodied, battered and beaming smiles of triumph laced liberally with relief, England celebrated a much-needed win over one of next year’s World Cup opponents, at the conclusion of their rollercoaster four-match autumn series.
“Now we can look forward to the Six Nations,” Chris Robshaw, the England captain, said, having staved off a further setback to add to those against New Zealand and South Africa in this mettle-detecting month. “If we’d lost it would have lingered with us.”
On the field at the final whistle, England’s outside-centre Brad Barritt epitomised his team’s belligerent attitude, claret pouring from a face like a beaten-up prize-fighter’s. Off it, up in the West Stand, it was no wonder the biggest fist-pump belonged to England’s forwards coach, Graham Rowntree.
England 26 Australia 17 - player ratings
England 26 Australia 17 - player ratings
1/3 Joe Marler
Gave England the upper edge as he got the better of James Slipper, but a shoulder injury looked to force him off earlier than England would have liked. 7
2/3 Dylan Hartley
Relished the battle up front and had the cheek to ask the referee for “more scrums”. Line-outs were as accurate as ever and gave England good quick ball. 8
3/3 David Wilson
More prominent in the loose than in previous weeks and stepped up where he need to in the scrum. 7
The home scrum treated the Australian pack like a welcome mat to earn pivotal penalties and offset an edge in elan and grace possessed by the Wallaby backline. More of the same in the grunt-and-grind department on 3 October next year, when these sides meet in their penultimate World Cup group match, would do Rowntree and England very nicely, thank you.
Australia had already lost narrowly to France and Ireland. Their captain Michael Hooper bemoaned chances that got away, regretting umpteen breaks by the peerless Adam Ashley-Cooper that went unfinished. By contrast, England’s No 8 Ben Morgan bludgeoned his second and third tries of the autumn – one in each half – and fly-half George Ford landed six goals. Australia trailed 13-3 at half-time and, though they twice closed to within three points during the third quarter, they were forever at bay.
Within their stately pleasure dome England have made a social contract with Twickenham man and woman – give us your support and we will respect our history and give our all in the present. Wins this calendar year over, Ireland and Wales, Scotland, Italy and Samoa have added up to an equivocal results ledger. France, the All Blacks and the Springboks have been too good for them. With the Rugby Football Union sitting a on pile of cash after announcing a £150m turnover last week, the question was whether they could put a world-beating team on the pitch?
In the early knockings, England looked to be gagging on that silver spoon, teetering on the edge of a breakdown in confidence. An attacking line-out throw slipped through Tom Wood’s hands after eight minutes (ruining a near perfect home record in that set-piece this autumn, although Samoa were compliant opponents in last week’s facile 28-9 win). There was also a bungled pass between Barritt and Anthony Watson, while a cute training-ground move off a scrum in the 20th minute was fluffed by Mike Brown’s pass being dropped by Jonny May. By that stage England were 6-3 ahead.
Crucially England emerged from a seesaw passage of play early in the second quarter with a morale-boosting try. A threatening position for Australia was snuffed out by Robshaw’s brilliant work, jackalling over Matt Toomua to earn a relieving penalty in the shadow of the England posts; soon afterwards, Ford’s downfield hoof was fumbled by Israel Folau to give England a scrum deep in enemy territory. Barritt was held up as he carried the crash ball into midfield but England recycled rapidly via Wood, peeling around, to Morgan who reprised his effort against the Springboks a fortnight ago with a pirouette out of the tackle. Ford converted, before sliding a penalty attempt wide from 50 metres just before the break.
While Courtney Lawes made a timely rediscovery of his tackling form – including a try-saving belter on Ashley-Cooper – another long-range miss by Ford preceded Australia’s first try by Foley, four minutes into second half, when a brilliant exchange of passes with Rob Horne undid England’s defence.
The home team tended to stand off at rucks outside their 22, allowing Australia latitude. In turn Billy Twelvetrees, theoretically England’s second playmaker at inside-centre, hardly had the ball in his hands. Either Ford or Brown kicked it, or Barritt’s bosh was well dealt with by the Aussies, denying Twelvetrees the next phase he craved. What made it all acceptable was that the kicking was mostly well directed.
England moved 10 points ahead again on 55 minutes, as Foley’s replacement Quade Cooper was tackled over his own line, and Morgan scored at the base of a scrum thundering forwards, with Ford converting. The scrum by now was anchored around the substitute loosehead Matt Mullan and, if there are questions in selection in some areas, England’s tight-five resources are in fantastic nick.
The response by Australia was swift: two replacements, Nic White and Will Skelton, combined for the latter to score and Cooper to convert. Ford’s 64th minute penalty presaged a period of Aussie panic and England stress: a hack through by Owen Farrell, which Folau needed to scurry to clear up, was followed by Farrell and Barritt putting in piledriving tackles to stifle a Wallaby attack from a line-out. It ended with Ford pressuring Folau into making a woeful pass to Horne.
Knowing they were home, England had a closing penalty by Ford on 75 minutes for Australia going off their feet; there were scraps and clashes of heads and some gold-jerseyed tempers lost – while England regained some self-respect.Reuse content