Stuart Lancaster discovers there is no substitute for experience
Sunday 03 November 2013
You can make what you want of statistics but try this one for size – there was more experience on England's bench than there was in the starting XV and my, how it showed in the first half. The team that ran out boasted 213 caps between them, the eight replacements aggregated 225.
Would England have prevailed but for the unfortunate injury to Scott Fardy and the delay before he could be taken off for treatment to his neck injury? It gave them time to compose themselves, and if there was an element of good fortune to Chris Robshaw's try immediately after Fardy's departure, then England created the pressure that led to it.
Five minutes later England made their first three substitutions, and in every case the replacement brought with him greater experience. Is this the right way round and is Stuart Lancaster, the head coach, any nearer to his best starting XV? Not on the basis of this display, even though England did well to come out ahead of an Australia XV which contained 496 caps.
The link at Nos 8, 9 and 10 vital to the wellbeing of any successful side seems up in the air. So Lee Dickson's club form at scrum-half is better than that of Ben Youngs or Danny Care. Well, Northampton have been going rather better than Leicester or Harlequins but Dickson has the least experience; at No 8, Ben Morgan, the find of last year, has been struggling to get into Gloucester's starting XV, which leaves Owen Farrell as the most assured individual in that core area, even though the fly-half's goalkicking was not at its best.
Tomkins' learning curve
No international debutant knows what to expect, however much he is told, and so it was for Joel Tomkins. The rugby league convert was caught out of position too often but we do know he will be a better player now than he was at 2.30pm yesterday.
Gruelling for Parling
Arguably the most uncomfortable England squad member would have been Geoff Parling. The Leicester lock could not be considered after picking up a concussion in training but he would have squirmed while watching England's line-out problems.
Parling has been the most recent line-out guru, but before the interval Australia nicked two throws (although they did lose one themselves).
Happily England were able to sort out the difficulty after the break, with greater use of their back-row jumpers, Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw.
Lawes finally proves a good call
The last time Courtney Lawes started for England was against France in February, when the shirt he wore was that of blindside flanker. Predictably he was like a fish out of water, but here both the old and the new Lawes came through. The injury to Geoff Parling threw extra weight on his shoulders as line-out caller, and it was not his fault that things went awry in the first half; they improved late on and his work in the loose added a threat.
Head to head: Mike Brown v Israel Folau
A hearty acknowledgement rang round Twickenham when, with a couple of minutes to go, it was announced that Mike Brown was the man of the match. The Harlequins full-back was so far ahead of his colleagues that it seemed hard to conceive the pre-match debate as to whether Brown, Ben Foden or Alex Goode should wear 15.
More to the point was the comparison of Brown with his opposite number, Israel Folau, terror earlier this year of the Lions, the Pumas and any other feline you care to mention. Folau is a class act; a delight under the high ball and a sinuous runner whose link-up play created the position for Australia's try.
Two tries on his international debut against the Lions in Brisbane, three tries against Argentina last month, Folau now has seven tries in 11 appearances and was named his country's rookie of the year. Brown, well, he has no international tries and a reputation (which he is rapidly putting behind him) as the Mr Angry of the Aviva Premiership.
But Brown's counterattacking was a delight, even if he was fortunate that the touch judge did not see him standing on the touchline as he kept an Australian penalty in play and launched the move which ultimately led to England's first try. Brave under the high ball, he is a great chaser too, recovering his own high kick in the first half with singular aplomb.
It was as though he was trying to do what Folau was expected to do and did not. Whether the Australian was playing under orders or respected the wet ball too much, he kicked more than he ran, and when he did run it was into a posse of defenders. Brown will sit more comfortably in his international skin today.
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