England rise to the challenge of history
As the 2003 World Cup winners look on, the class of 2013 show they can beat Australia too
Chris Robshaw and Owen Farrell each scored their first tries for their country as England kicked off their autumn international programme with a 20-13 win over Australia at Twickenham.
England had trailed at half-time, and were in danger of their efforts being overshadowed by the 10th anniversary celebrations surrounding their World Cup-winners of 2003 who paraded round the pitch at the interval.
But the visiting Wallabies, who were embarrassingly routed at home by the British & Irish Lions last summer, fell away again when they were kept scoreless in the second half as captain Robshaw and fly-half Farrell made the most of a couple of questionable calls that went England's way.
Farrell's illustrious predecessor in the England No 10 jersey, Jonny Wilkinson flew in from France yesterday morning, having typically kicked 22 points in a win for his club Toulon in a 37-17 win over Bordeaux on Friday, to join Martin Johnson and rest of the 2003 squad in a lap of honour at half time. And England coach Stuart Lancaster admitted that the sight of the heroes of 2003 had a bearing on the afternoon. "We were very aware of the 2003 players being in the crowd and wanted to do them proud,'' he said. "Their achievements inspired a lot of the players in our team.
"In terms of a young squad building against an Australia team that's been together for a while, it's a great start."
The result may also be a fillip for England's cricketers preparing for the Ashes, as Aussie sport took another kick in the guts. One of the few crumbs of comfort for the land down under is the Kangaroos being favoured to win the rugby league World Cup now being played.
Lancaster's team are a work in progress, mustering only 213 caps in the starting XV. While England are now sitting on a promising run of eight wins in their last nine games, they will not underestimate the challenge of meeting Argentina and the world's No 1 ranked team, New Zealand, here in the next two weeks.
The All Blacks have lost just once in 32 games (to England last December) after yesterday's 54-6 romp over Japan in Tokyo at the start of an autumn tour which continues next week in France.
England's backs coach Andy Farrell revealed the inspiring pre-match words of debutant centre Joel Tomkins, a convert from rugby league whose brother Sam was in 13-a-side World Cup action against Ireland yesterday. The Tomkins family were all at Twickenham, having seen plenty of Sam's league exploits before.
"Joel stood in front of the squad on Thursday and he told the boys straight up that the reason he came over was to wear this England shirt and his main focus was to do his team-mates proud and make them realise that he deserves to play in it again," said Farrell, a past code-crosser himself. "The hardest thing is the pressure you put on yourself and it was an emotional day for him."
Lancaster has a grand plan for the England team's number of caps to be around the 500 mark come the next World Cup in 2015.
But for all the talk of 10 years ago and what is coming in two years' time – when England will meet Australia again in a Twickenham pool match – Lancaster was looking no further than next Saturday. "I was pleased overall with our scrum but there's a bigger test coming with the Argentinians," Lancaster warned.
Australia coach Ewen McKenzie grumbled that a foot in touch by England's man of the match full-back Mike Brown was missed by the officials in the extended sequence of play leading up to Robshaw's try in the 50th minute.
But Farrell and Lancaster dismissed the idea that both that and a possible block by England hooker Dylan Hartley before Farrell scored eight minutes later meant the home team were lucky.
"They're all ifs and buts," said Farrell, whose fellow assistant coach Mike Catt stayed out of the 2003 players' parade to look after his more pressing duties. "Our ability to find a way to win was outstanding."
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