England sank sadly and definitively out of their own World Cup an embarrassing 15 days into the tournament, with four weeks still to play. It was close for a period during the second half but mostly this was white jerseys chasing a wild Aussie goose, and now the Wallabies and Wales will play the final Pool A match here next Saturday to decide their quarter-final path.
Some or all of the England players may come to regard this as the great missed opportunity of their careers. They strained every muscle but were beaten by a more talented all-round Australian squad. The attacking brio of George Ford was introduced too late. The pool winners have a golden route to a quarter-final against the runners-up from Pool B, probably Scotland, while the runners-up contemplate a probable quarter-final with South Africa, and a semi-final against the winners of the New Zealand All Blacks’ last-eight meeting with France or Ireland.
England? Among the many cringing aspects they face are pointlessly playing Uruguay next week, and Chris Robshaw and others could be turning out for the clubs on the opening weekend of Aviva Premiership matches on 16-18 October, that coincide with the World Cup quarter-finals. Has there ever been a pithier juxtaposition for a beaten sportsman?
The reintroduction of Jonathan Joseph after injury immediately gave England’s midfield more pace and bite; the trouble, just as immediately, was that a lot of the centre’s best first-half work was done outside the Australian 22. The unmistakeable impression was of half a metre of space and half a second of precious time being lost by the delivery from the breakdown by the half-backs of Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell. The latter had levelled the scores at 3-3 in the 13th minute with a penalty against Australia’s Scott Sio for collapsing a scrum but whereas memorable Anglo-Aussie contests of the recent past had seen a glut of English good news in the set-piece, this Wallaby pack is made of more obdurate stuff.
The teams were meeting for the sixth time in eight World Cups – but anyone wearing white in a crowd in nervous tumult wanting to draw inspiration from a certain night in Sydney in 2003 would have known before kick-off this is a very different England team to that of Johnno, Jonny and company.
Predictably on the run of play that had already seen Israel Folau butcher a gaping overlap when Mike Brown closed him down, Australia struck the first try-scoring blow, 19 minutes in. Waves of attack were met determinedly by England, and one double tackle by Tom Youngs and Dan Cole slammed Michael Hooper – one half of the Wallabies’ dangerously fast-acting dual-openside combo with David Pocock – to a halt. But the ball kept coming, and although England were numbered up okay on their left flank, they were ragged in alignment and Bernard Foley, the fly-half who had kicked a penalty after four minutes, dummied and shimmied past flailing tackles by Joe Launchbury and Brown. The conversion by Foley had Australia 10-3 up.
Foley had been Australia's arguably steady-eddie choice at No.10 ahead of the unpredictable, defensively flawed Quade Cooper, but there was nothing wrong with him in attack either.
After the second of two penalties awarded against England’s Joe Marler in the scrum – seemingly justifying the fierce midweek critique by former Australia coach Bob Dwyer of the Harlequins loosehead’s scrummaging technique – Pocock charged across the gainline from a line-out and Foley brilliantly switched the direction of the attack to the short side, finding Kurtley Beale a willing and able accomplice on his shoulder for an exchange of passes that flummoxed England and gave Foley his second try and second conversion; 17-3 at half-time and the interval talk of their lives needed by Stuart Lancaster and Chris Robshaw, England’s head coach and captain.
Ford, who had started the bonus-point win over Fiji on the tournament’s opening night, before being dropped for the drumskin-tight loss to Wales here eight days ago, was yearning surely to show he could add pace and direction to England’s raids; the young Bath fly-half got his chance in strange fashion when Jonny May appeared to go lame as he came out for second half. Ford came on, with Farrell and Brad Barritt shunting one place out in the centres, and Joseph transferred to a not unfamiliar posting on May’s wing.
Marler’s ignominy grew worse on 48 minutes, “Three times, you are definitely not straight,” the French referee Romain Poite intoned, and Foley put Australia a daunting three scores clear with the resulting penalty. Inevitably, Marler was hooked off for Mako Vunipola straight afterwards. All the bench would follow, including Sam Burgess for the injured Barritt.
England could ill afford any wastefulness now, but Joseph failed to feed a two-man overlap. Fortunately for home morale, a try arrived in quick order as Anthony Watson forced through some soft tackles on the right and Farrell converted: 20-10 to Australia. Then a bungled pass hoofed on by Ford had Australia killing the ball and Farrell collected three points to reduce the gap to seven on 64 minutes.
Only disaster followed. Foxed by Australia’s passing, Farrell tackled Matt Giteau without the ball and went to the sin bin. Burgess was lucky not to go too, having hit Hooper high in the same incident. Whatever, Foley’s penalty, with nine minutes left, sounded a death knell, echoed by another Foley penalty as England’s scrum disintegrated, and Giteau’s 79th minute try converted by Foley to mocking strains of ‘Waltzing Matilda’.
England: M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, B Barritt (S Burgess, 65), J May (G Ford, 41); O Farrell, B Youngs (R Wigglesworth, 50); J Marler (M Vunipola, 50), T Youngs (R Webber, 61), D Cole (K Brookes, 54), J Launchbury (G Kruis, 69), G Parling, T Wood, C Robshaw (capt), B Morgan (N Easter, 58).
Australia: I Folau (M Toomua, 66); A Ashley-Cooper, T Kuridrani, M Giteau, R Horne (K Beale, 11); B Foley, W Genia (N Phipps, 61); S Sio (J Slipper, 57), S Moore (capt; T Polota-Nau, 65), S Kepu (G Holmes, 57), K Douglas, R Simmons, S Fardy, M Hooper, D Pocock.
Referee: R Poite (France).Reuse content