England's chances of winning the World Cup, the Webb Ellis version rather than the one inspired by Jules Rimet, are negligible. They can't even hold on to the Cook Cup, which was regained by Australia in Melbourne yesterday. Pool the two squads and one very good team might emerge - England's forwards with the Wallabies' backs.
The Red Rose pack, by no means at full strength, dominated all over the field and yet the consequence was utterly depressing. With the ball England were impotent; Australia, without it for most of the match, were rampant. Having lost the first Test 34-3 in Sydney, Andy Robinson made seven changes and England lost 43-18. If the tour told him anything it is that his forwards are still a force but everything else is not so much a work in progress as in disarray.
For the first time in 22 years England suffered the embarrassment of five successive defeats, the last three in the disastrous Six Nations and the two in Australia. When they crashed to France in Paris Robinson made eight changes and the suspicion now is that he doesn't have a clue what his best XV is.
The head coach has 14 more Tests before the World Cup in France next year and he and the attack coach, Brian Ashton, will need every one of them to find a style that can exploit the ball-winning capacity of the pack. The try count Down Under was Australia nine, England two and goodness only knows how many the hosts would have scored had they managed parity up front.
Yesterday Stephen Larkham simply went through the motions and that was quite enough, thank you. On limited rations the Wallabies varied their tactics, kicking possession away, putting pressure on their unreliable line-out or spinning it, and when they did the latter a try looked on almost every time. The ease with which they punctured England's defence was shocking, as was the break by Chris Latham, who ran out of four tackles to create a try for Lote Tuqiri just before half-time.
You only had to look at the contest between Tuqiri and Tom Varndell, never mind Mark Gerrard and Mathew Tait, to appreciate the difference between the sides. There was no contest. Varndell scored a try at the end that would have raised, as did George Chuter's admirable effort, a cheer at Welford Road but it was quite misleading. Ashton had said of Varndell that he has "massive potential" but the fact is the Leicester flyer is as raw as a carrot and nowhere near Test level. I'm not sure he ever will be. Tait, rehabilitated after Robinson hung him out to dry in Cardiff the season before last, played at centre in Sydney and was switched to the left wing yesterday, where he was again exposed and substituted.
This leaves Rob Andrew, Newcastle's coach and a contender to become England's new director of élite rugby, with another session of tlc for the talented Tait. Andrew was adamant Jonny Wilkinson should miss this trip and his judgement was spot on, but it is clear that the sooner Wilkinson, Twickenham's answer to Wayne Rooney, returns the sooner Ashton will have something to work with.
England's recent away record against major countries is laughable: played 11, won one, tries for 11, against 31. The notorious review by the Rugby Football Union that led to the promotion of Ashton, John Wells (forwards) and Mike Ford (defence) produced blood on the carpet because England lost three matches in a row in the Six Nations and finished an unacceptable fourth. They were fourth the previous season so a purge could have been held then.
As it is, the new coaching staff can say they've only just begun but the Wallabies, with John Connolly, Michael Foley (both fresh from Bath) and Scott Johnson (from Wales), could say the same. And as for the question of England spending more quality time with their players, this is the worst possible time to raise the subject, what with the clubs taking legal action over the RFU's decision to stage, against New Zealand at Twickenham on 5 November, a fourth autumn Test. On and off the field, the players have never been in a more uncomfortable position.Reuse content