When Martin Johnson was ruling the roost on the old cabbage patch as Captain Marvel it was known as Fortress Twickenham, and for good reason. Since his retirement, following the World Cup victory over Australia five years ago, the keepers of the garrison have won just 15 of36 Tests here.
It was the Wallabies who walked away with the Cook Cup yesterday, a thimble compared to the Webb Ellis Cup but nonetheless a valuable triumph for them at a ground where they had not won since 2004. Yesterday the only England survivor from that occasion was Steve Borthwick and, as Johnson pointed out afterwards, his embryonic team are learning on the hoof. So too, of course, is Johnson, who was in his second Test as the Red Rose manager.
"We have to trust ourselves and play," Johnson said. "We had the opportunities but you have to see them first before you can exploit them." The frustration of it all was almost etched into his beetle brow. "There were lots of positives. We made more breaks than them and if we'd been well beaten it would be a different thing."
According to the scoreline, Australia were twice as good as England, but then we are into lies and statistics. The figures that are undeniable are that Australia won by a goal and seven penalties to a goal, two penalties and a drop goal. Danny Cipriani (pictured) scored six points, his opposite number, Matt Giteau, 20.
England's indiscipline in the first quarter allowed the Wallabies to construct a decent platform, but Johnson chose to dwell on other aspects of the game. The attacking strategy was laboured and ultra-conservative, in spite of Cipriani's two electrifying breaks that led to nothing.
"At the ruckswe were picking and going, which meant we had to win the ball again," Johnson said. "Lots of little things can change a Test. We had plenty of opportunities and we've got to learn to take one or two chances. They had one chance and took it. We turned over possession six or seven times and let them off far too often."
Next up is South Africa. "We'll pick a team that is right to face the Springboks," Johnson said. "We've got good depth and we've got options. We need to keep a cool head."
A moment of truth for scrummaging aficionados arrived within the first minute, and it was not a pretty sight. The first scrum collapsed, as did the second, and the upshot, much to the disgust of the English, was a free-kick to Australia. In the World Cup last year the Wallaby front row fell to pieces in front of Andy Sheridan. Not yesterday.
When Giteau kicked the first of his penalties he couldn't believe his luck. Then the England full-back, Delon Armitage, who had hardly put a foot wrong in winning the man of the match award against the Pacific Islanders last week, made a hash of a clearance kick – it went straight out – and when, as a result, Australia advanced, the upshot was another kick for Giteau. The culprit was the captain, Borthwick, who fell offside. He should have been setting an example.
Perhaps he was, for England continued to give away penalties and Giteau filled his boots. After Cipriani had missed badlywith his first penaltyattempt, the stand-off made a lacerating break but Sod's Law kicked in when the move floundered at the left corner and Lee Mears, the shortest player in the team, was grounded a couple of feet short of the line.
Not quite everything went Giteau's way. When he semi-sliced a kick to touch, Armitage dropped an improbable goal that corkscrewedits way to the bar like a seasoned drinker.
England continued to tee up the Wallabies. Phil Vickery made a stupid infringement with his foot at a ruck in the 26th minute, and four minutes later there was another case of offside. Cue slow handclapping and booing from a crowd whose frustration was mainly directed at the South African referee, Marius Jonker.
Five minutes before the break, Nick Easter drove over after sustained pressure, and when Cipriani finally found the target in the 39th minute England trailed by only a point.
After Cipriani had made an awful mess of a drop goal, he was successful with a penalty, and on 50 minutes England were in front at 14-12. It lastedall of three minutes as normal service was resumed, Giteau kicking two more penalties. By way of variation, Stirling Mortlock landed a long-range version before Adam Ashley-Cooperrounded off a Wallaby attack, finding himself on a huge overlap on the right for the try of the match, although that was not saying much.
Cipriani took a big hit from Wycliff Palu and retired nine minutes before the end. It was not exactly the old Palu's act.
MAN FOR MAN: ENGLAND
DELON ARMITAGE 7/10
Dropped a goal from distance as if he were Jonny Wilkinson; the kick wobbled like Jonny Boy on his way back from a night out with England's royal hangers-on, too. Solid elsewise, including a try-saving thumping of Cross in the second half.
PAUL SACKEY 6/10
Tried a chip out of defence in the first half – perhaps in protest at the nature of the game – and ran, wallop, into Mortlock. A penalty. Gave away a few too, though.
JAMIE NOON 6/10
The usual trademark tackling, which presumably means he leaves a perfect imprint of himself on every opponent he hits. Attacking work? It might have happened, but one couldn't really say...
RIKI FLUTEY 6/10
Exactly the same height as Noon, exactly the same weight. Not exactly the same kind of player, but similar. Too similar. A similar mark, then.
UGO MONYE 6/10
Caught the ball, kicked it. Caught the ball, kicked it. Caught the ball... you get the drift. The lot of a modern wing is not necessarily a very happy one, as the Harlequin found out in rather dreary detail.
DANNY CIPRIANI 6/10
Responsible for the only real breakout of the first half – the only outbreak of decent rugby, you might say – when he picked a lock and went straight through. Did it again in the second half, too, but he kicked badly for the most part, out of hand and off the floor. Didn't look at all happy all afternoon.
DANNY CARE 6/10
Sometimes his eagerness to go quickly backfires; then again, he had to get a move on yesterday, with a couple of Wallabies breathing sweet nothings in his ear at all times. Did pretty well, considering.
ANDREW SHERIDAN 5/10
Baxter kept falling over – nothing much new there – but was it because Sheridan wasn't pushing straight or because Baxter was boring in? No idea, but the key word was "boring" and the Wallaby got the rub; the Englishman was done for slipping his binding for a key second-half penalty.
LEE MEARS 5/10
Line-outs malfunctioned – it wasn't all the Bath man's fault but his overthrow led, fairly directly, to the Australian try. Was stopped in the corner after Cipriani's first break, although it took Giteau's pace to run him down.
PHIL VICKERY 5/10
Spent just as much time with his nose in the turf as the other front-row funbuddies. And an England put-in went west, and another scrum crumpled like a car in a crusher. Would have seemed unthinkable before the game. Not his best day.
STEVE BORTHWICK 5/10
Captain of a team making silly mistakes and giving away even sillier penalties – eight of the blighters in points-scoring range, seven of which went over. That would be a big enough concern if another, even bigger one – that the skipper gives away as many penalties as anyone – wasn't lurking like something frightful at the bottom of a maul.
TOM PALMER 5/10
Prone to handling errors and line-out mishaps. Bigger than the man he replaced, Nick Kennedy, and thus capable of making more of an impact around the pitch. "Capable" is the key word, though – he didn't really do it here.
TOM CROFT 6/10
The second fastest man in Leicester – which must be a bit like being the second man on the moon, the way people harp on about how quick Tom Varndell is in his socks – ran down Peter Hynes, a winger, at one point. Otherwise engaged at close quarters, mostly.
TOM REES 6/10
Gave a good account of himself against Smith, although he gave away a good number of penalties while he was at it. Less sure of how to pretend he's doing nothing wrong while committing grand larceny from three miles over the top and on the wrong side, say. Learning all the time.
NICK EASTER 6/10
A curiously engaging mixture of lumpy stuff and lovely little touches, the problem being that the latter occasionally go wrong, taking precious ball with them. Smashed his way over for a deserved try.
Matt Stevens In action in both halves, for both props. James Haskell On for Easter. Simon Shaw On for Palmer. Michael Lipman Replaced Rees to face his old country. Harry Ellis On for Care when game was going, going... Dylan Hartley On for Mears when it had gone. Ditto Toby Flood, on for Cipriani.
MAN FOR MAN: AUSTRALIA
ADAM ASHLEY-COOPER 6/10
Got away with a bad knock-on in the first half, so kudos for that, and caught, kicked and chased as well as anyone else on the pitch. Got to love the ELVs. Or rather, got to love the IRB wizards who came up with the breakdown directive. Strolled over forthe decisive try.
PETER HYNES 6/10
Caught by Croft when he had the outside and empty green space ahead of him. Might have been embarrassing – and costly – on the coach home. Kicked, caught and chased diligently.
RYAN CROSS 6/10
Former leaguer bashed and boshed about against another basher and bosher, Noon. Not very pretty.
STIRLING MORTLOCK 6/10
"Number 12?" he said to the referee, Marius Jonker. "That's me." He knew he'd taken Sackey out, too. Later made matchsticks of Flutey, which isn't the easiest thing to do, and made up for being a bit heavy-handed with the ball and occasionally off it by slipping the pass for the try.
DREW MITCHELL 6/10
Another flier with his wings clipped by the fools who fiddle about with the rules. Caught, kicked, chased for 80 minutes.
MATT GITEAU 7/10
Contrast to Cipriani – the Australian kicked like a dream. Possibly less impressive than the England man with ball in hand, but he didn't make mistakes and he created the winning try without any fuss at all, which is the way your average Antipodean back goes about his business. Quiet, but more than quite good.
LUKE BURGESS 7/10
Very quick on to the ball at the ruck, winning an important penalty in the second half by taking care to tackle Care. Players expected to lead England one day tend to be known as "FEC", which stands for "Future England captain". This Wallaby skipper in waiting is just FEC-king good.
BENN ROBINSON 7/10
Less maligned than his fellow prop, Baxter, so perhaps under a little less pressure. But Australia won the game, so the mess the scrums became was, for them, a very good thing. Lots of claps on the back from grateful mates as England grew more and more ragged.
STEPHEN MOORE 7/10
A big unit you wouldn't want to meet on a dark night or, in this case, lumbering through the middle of a ruck, a dire grin splitting his beaten-up phizzog. Squished two scrum-halves with positive glee and his line-out work was strong, if not completely convincing.
AL BAXTER 7/10
Let's say it's a question of relativity. The scrums were an absolute shambles but who was to blame was a difficult proposition – the point was that the Wallaby props were not, by any means, the only ones at fault. The Waratah's best effort against England.
MARK CHISHOLM 6/10
Overshadowed by his big bearded buddy, Sharpe, who did most of the catching and lumping and the pushing and the shoving. But a solid effort and, as any second row willtell you, no pair of props can hold a scrum together ontheir own.
NATHAN SHARPE 8/10
Best tight-five forward on the pitch, never mind in the much-abused Wallaby pack. Took line-outs, caught kick-offs (under not enough pressure every time, admittedly), charged about and even charged down kicks and nearly scored. Very big. Very good.
HUGH McMENIMAN 7/10
They call him "Madness", apparently, but all he had to do in such a limited game was keep his head while England's forwards were losing theirs. If you can't manage that you won't make a Test player, my son. McMeniman managed it. Good for him.
GEORGE SMITH 7/10
Won his 94th cap and provided the 94th slice of evidence that his middle name might as well be "Hands off the ball, No 7". An absolute pain in the arse at the rucks, which is the whole point, and he got the better of Rees.
RICHARD BROWN 6/10
Fourth cap finished by a finger injury. No need to point the finger at the No 8, who did his job as well as anyone.
Wycliff Palu Replaced Brown and made some absolutely enormous hits when England were chasing the game. Dean Mumm Came on for Chisholm. Tatufa Polota-Nau A hooker on for a flanker, McMeniman, too late on in the game for it to matter much.