Jonathan Davies: We know Australia's strengths - we don't learn

Sunday 05 December 2004 01:00

After Australia gave us a double whammy in union and league last weekend we tended to look for scapegoats to explain the defeats. We should have blamed our collective failure to learn the lessons of the past.

When you think you've got the Aussies where you want them, they hit you with a cyclone. That was true even in my day - they were the quickest starters of any team I played against in either code. Nothing has changed. Both England at Twickenham and Great Britain at Leeds quietly fancied themselves and both got blasted from the off.

It was no coincidence that both games had similar starts. The Aussies produced a first 20 minutes of such intensity we couldn't live with them in either game. We should be used to it by now but it always seems to take us by surprise. We think we have a chance but they come at us at 100mph.

It is an ability to focus every muscle on the first quarter of the match that makes them so formidable. They have the technical ability to pour everything into an early onslaught.

At Twickenham, at least England got back into it after going 15-0 down. Tactically, they tightened up the game, the forwards picked up and drove and there was a directness that should have brought them victory.

Had they played that way from the start and braced themselves to take on the Aussies' early aggression, I'm sure they would have won. But they didn't and I hope that Charlie Hodgson isn't going to carry the can alone. There was a lot more wrong than his off-day at kicking.

I wouldn't have played the expansive game that England attempted to play at the outset and might have opted for Will Greenwood instead of Henry Paul. But once Paul was in the side I would have stuck with him for longer than 24 minutes. If he wasn't going well then they could have missed him out and used Mike Tindall to get over the gain line.

Once they took Paul off, they had no kicking cover or outside-half cover for Hodgson and that proved a fatal error. But the real letdown was the failure of England's drift defence to deal with the Australian attacks. As the Aussies proved in that first half, the way to beat the drift defence is to show and go.

That's what Matt Giteau did. He showed the ball to Joe Worsley, who bought the dummy, and Giteau was past him to put Jeremy Paul over. Then Chris Latham threw a dummy to Josh Lewsey and went over with Lewsey still clinging to him.

It may be significant that Worsley and Lewsey aren't used to drift defence because Wasps don't play it. Even then, England should have won. Poor discipline gave away two penalties but when you are four points ahead you need to play in the right areas of the field.

Hodgson's replacement, Andy Gomarsall, couldn't kick them there. Henry Paul could have. Instead of being taken off as a villain, he could have proved a match-winner.

In the league match, everyone expected the Great Britain pack to dominate but, again, they were overwhelmed by the pace and intensity far superior to anything that had gone before in the Tri-Nations.

Part of the problem was that Great Britain were defensively lazy in a collective sense because they were caught out by the off-loading and were slow to react to inside balls.

Kicking was a good parallel between the two games. At Leeds, Australia's was pin-point and the chase was so good, the British struggled to get out of their own 20-metre area. But when GB kicked it was usually straight to one of the back three who would bring the ball clear of his area and give his team the chance to make progress.

The difference was that when it came to the last tackle, the Aussies had a designated kicker in position. That didn't always happen on GB's last tackle.

But I must say that we've had some brilliant rugby from both codes over the past month or so and I have no hesitation in nominating Australian rugby league star Darren Lockyer as the finest player of either code. I'd even say we haven't seen a better tourist from Down Under for the past 30 years.

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