Brian Ashton, the England coach, said after England's astonishing transformation in the World Cup yesterday that it had been a "roller coaster" ride. No passenger during this extraordinary tournament has been higher or lower than the Red Rose captain, Phil Vickery. "We're a good side and perhaps will go further than people think," said the Cornishman. "I think our victory was based on good old-fashioned guts." Vickery was spot on. Australia had the runners and the opportunities but they blew it in the face of an English uprising.
Vickery got off to a disastrous start to the tournament with a clumsy trip against America which got him a two-match suspension, following which the captaincy went to Martin Corry.
Yesterday Vickery was back in a dominant England front row – for all the world they looked like the yeoman of old – and he and his fellow forwards were in their element.
"We put ourselves in a position where it was going to hurt," Vickery said. "A lot of people had written us off and you do that at your peril. On any given day you have to remember that anybody can beat anybody. We're all very proud Englishmen and we're representing our country to the highest of our ability. All credit to Australia, they fought to the very end and we were just lucky enough to come out on top.
"To beat Australia in a quarter-final is the most amazing feeling, extra special. It took a huge effort from everybody involved."
Vickery, a member of England's World Cup winning team in Sydney four years ago when they won 20-17 with a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal in extra time, had received a phone call from Trevor Woodman, another member of England's triumphant pack in 2003, a few days ago.
Woodman, who subsequently was forced to retire after suffering a serious neck injury, has since emigrated to Australia. The gist of his conversation to Vickery was: "You have got to win. It will give me four more years of bragging rights in Sydney."
Ashton, after the humiliating 36-0 defeat to South Africa in the pool stages, gave the impression that England were still on track. "There was no major surgery," the coach said. "We simplified the blueprint."
Speaking of yesterday's extraordinary triumph, Ashton said: "In this game physical courage is a given.
"However, there is another form of courage and we showed that in taking Australia on and moving the ball around the field, challenging them in different areas.
"Our scrummage and driving game came to the fore much more than in previous games and our overall performance was far more balanced than anything we had shown before.
"To say it was magnificent is an understatement. A crucial area is that we contested so well at the breakdowns," said Ashton.
It is difficult, given England's lamentable form going into this quarter-final, not to overreact. But the fact remains that once again they failed to score a try, the only touchdown coming from the Australian wing Lote Tuqiri.
In next Saturday's semi-final at the Stade de France in Paris, England will have to up their game again but there is no denying they are showing signs that they are capable of doing so.
Yes, they benefited from Australia's appalling handling yesterday in perfect conditions – what a contrast to the rain of Sydney in the memorable final four years ago – but their impressive defence and outstanding tackling caused the Wallabies to misfire so badly.
"England can give anybody a shake," Stirling Mortlock, the Wallabies' captain, said afterwards. He has a point.
John Connolly, the Australian who coached Bath – as Ashton did – a few years ago before returning to coach his country, bowed out on a low note but both he and Mortlock were extremely gracious in defeat. "In my career there have been far more highlights than lowlights," Connolly said.
Connolly, who is retiring from the post, added: "At the climax to another epic confrontation, six Australians were left on their knees, as was Andy Gomarsall, the England scrum-half.
"The difference is that Gomarsall was punching the turf at Stade Velodrome in absolute delight."Reuse content