Martin Johnson's hand may have been forced when he inked his back line to face Australia in the Autumn International series opener, with Delon Armitage and Riki Flutey ruled out through injury, but the new-look midfield partnership of Shane Geraghty and Dan Hipkiss in particular, failed to ignite England as they crumbled to a woeful 18-9 defeat at Twickenham yesterday.
There were bound to be nerves jangling but when Geraghty and Hipkiss, who before yesterday had 10 international starts between them, first saw the Wallabies' team sheet and their opposite men, the pair must have thought they would not be handed a better chance to shine for their country and cement their starting XV place.
Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane may be one of the oddest named midfield partnerships to grace Twickenham's turf, thrust as they were into the limelight due to injuries to two of Australia's most influential attackers – Stirling Mortlock and Berrick Barnes – but the slain England team will certainly not forget the Queensland Reds pair in a hurry.
The visiting pair were initially on the back foot as a rejuvenated Jonny Wilkinson, the man who must haunt Australians, pulled the strings. But after Robbie Deans dished out a half-time roasting the tourists improved immeasurably and dominated the second half – a time when the England backs should have increased their four-point lead.
Much had been made of the Wilkinson-Geraghty partnership at 10 and 12. Geraghty, making his first start, collected well from Wilkinson but time and again performed an instinctive two-step shuffle, causing the ball to be slowed up and giving the men outside him less chance to make good yards.
There were flashes of Geraghty's talent, such as when, with 20 minutes left, his deft delayed pass put Ugo Monye away, but the Harlequins full-back slipped and fell.
But Geraghty's mistakes are what will stick in the throat of England attack coach Brian Smith. His kicking out of hand was at times terrible – at one stage he managed to clip the ball behind his own players.
Outside him Hipkiss saw plenty of the ball, especially in the first half, but failed to create anything of note. He very nearly crossed for his first try in eight games, but was hauled down five metres from the line. The Leicester Tigers centre, 27, was solid in defence but, once again, showed that he does not have that something extra to succeed at international level and Johnson replaced him with debutant Ayoola Erinle after 67 unproductive minutes. Hipkiss should not be given another opportunity for England.
Another gamble by the normally pragmatic Johnson was the selection of Bath wing Matt Banahan, who huffed and puffed but made errors that underlined his deficiencies. At 6ft 7in the 22-year-old is not your normal wing. He bludgeoned the gold and greens at times with his direct running and made a number of big tackles. But his kicking lacked confidence and his awareness was questionable – not surprising for a converted lock. So it could be back to the drawing board for Smith and Johnson. Geraghty's time will undoubtedly come, but he – like Banahan – needs more matches at the top level before he can announce himself on the international stage.Reuse content