David Flatman: Green and gold giants finally pack a punch

View from the front row with Bath & England prop
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Much to my disappointment, the scrummage did not quite develop into the headline-grabbing, tone-setting confrontation I had hoped for yesterday at Twickenham. Inevitably there was the odd penalty either way, but not the violent, passionate, 2005-esque flare-up we all so desired.

In fact it was the line-out, in the game's early stages, that looked as though it might be the weapon most vital in England's assault on Australia. Steve Borthwick reigned supreme and donated to Stephen Moore perhaps the worst start to any Test match in his career. Combine this with the likes of Lewis Moody and Jonny Wilkinson, England's returning heroes, hammering back the opposition with all the regularity and hostility that was asked of them, and it seemed like the afternoon could be a long one for the visitors.

Somehow, though, they managed to run out comfortable winners. While their line-out was pillaged early on, it recovered in the second half and their scrum remained solid throughout. This, along with the commendable amount of clean ball secured at the breakdown, proved to be more than enough for the wonderful Matt Giteau to work with.

I am loath to drift lazily into hyperbole by labelling him a player with the X Factor, and I refuse to call him a magician. What he is is smart. Not classroom smart, not cocky smart. Rugby smart. Plenty of players can see on video clips where they should run and what they should do but Giteau, though somewhat diminutive in stature for a man in the modern game, does not leave it on the laptop. He brings it on a Saturday and shows it to the world.

This is not to say he sees the game as a series of rows and columns, as a mathematical equation to which there must exist a logical answer. He just seems to feel his way around the field, adapting and overcoming. Every time he tried the English defensive line from first phase, he was battered by Wilkinson. He even conspired to miss one or two tackles himself early on, but at no point did he look bothered, never mind flustered. Here is a man at the top of his game and in possession of a sportsman's most valuable asset: self-belief.

And it was that belief that secured the win for Australia. Towards the end of the match we saw England trying anything and everything, and what did the Aussies do? They tackled with venom until the very last whistle. There were lock-forwards defending wingers. Front-rowers in the midfield opposite Shane Geraghty and flankers dead on their feet, but it did not matter. I am sure a defensive coach would compliment their organisation and the effectiveness of their well-honed, 15-man system, but tight-forwards in the wide channels with minutes to go, shattered beyond belief against a team running everything, does not sound so organised to me. It was all hands on deck and it was enough.

Australia's recent form may be awful but that counted for nothing yesterday as they displayed an all-round game from which any international outfit could learn. They were steely-eyed and relentlessly cohesive when England had the ball and were admirably direct in attack. But it was when the chances came, when the lights flashed green just for a milli-second, that they showed their true class. Two opportunities and two tries. Two missed tackles and the game was out of sight. The margins are as close as ever and, with an uncompromising bunch of Argentinians arriving in a week's time, England need to find a way to come out on top. I guess it will be back to the computer room.

Comments