Jonathan Davies: Beast of players, best of players: the night of mighty Johnson

Sunday 13 October 2013 06:09

If last week's match against New Zealand was all about the win, then yesterday's historic triumph over Australia was proof that England can also play top-quality rugby and score tries when needed.

In my eyes, England gave the ultimate beauty and the beast performance in Melbourne. Beauty because some of the handling, running and tries were a delight to watch; and beast because Clive Woodward's side remain the toughest nut to crack in the game.

No player best epitomises the highest-ranked team in the world than the captain Martin Johnson. Yesterday, I felt he was absolutely awesome. I would say that he is now the best English player of all time. I know that it is difficult to class backs and forwards in the same pot, but this guy is just incredible. No one that I can remember performs to his standards week-in week-out. He has also matured over time, becoming a much more rounded pro who can play any type of rugby he wants.

The same is true of the whole team. What impressed me most about this first win on Australian soil was England's ability to mix their game up. When they had to attack, they did so convincingly, and when they had to defend, they showed their usual resolve. Playing in much more favourable conditions than against the All Blacks a week earlier, England were expected to demonstrate the full range of their abilities. They did not disappoint.

The angles of running from Will Greenwood, Mike Tindall and Josh Lewsey, but also the front five in the pack in the first 10 minutes, were exceptional. The Tindall try, after 30 minutes, was superb. Both forwards and backs were involved in the cross-field move, and they were equally good in possession. That's what modern rugby is all about.

Throughout the first half, England's passing was crisp, their ball retention excellent, and their recycling faultless. The fact that England were not so dominant in the second half, and in particular the first 20 minutes after the restart, surprised no one. Australia were always going to have a period in the match when they came on strong, and so it proved.

The key, though, is that England did not buckle during that difficult time. Clive will want to look at the video and work on a couple of things that were not perfect during that onslaught, but, overall, he will be very pleased with the way his players handled the pressure. His substitutions, especially those of Kieran Bracken by Matt Dawson and Richard Hill by Joe Worsley, were timed to perfection, because they gave England fresh legs just when the likes of Toutai Kefu and David Lyons were threatening to take the game away.

Like their manager, England never lost their heads, and I was very impressed with some of the clever rugby they played. The decision to move Greenwood temporarily to fly-half in order to give Jonny Wilkinson a better kicking angle from centre to clear his lines from a defensive scrum was well thought through. So, too, was the idea to swap Jason Robinson and Lewsey when chasing long kicks forward. Not only is Lewsey stronger in the tackle, but Robinson is then in the perfect position at full-back to launch a quick counter-attack.

England's steady march towards World Cup glory continues, and the only question remaining is what the starting XV will be against Georgia in Perth on 12 October, and then against South Africa six days later. We may find the answers during the August Tests, when Clive and his coaching team can try out new combinations. Expect fierce internal battles, because everyone wants to play for the best.

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