Friday 24 March 2017

England raise the bar but Johnson stays true to form

England 35
Australia 18

Mick Cleary

Even under lowering skies, Martin Johnson would never have his head in the clouds. While the Twickenham faithful floated out into the night, dazed, euphoric and in search of the nearest bookies to lump on bundles before England's World Cup odds were slashed (too late), the Johnson feet were being planted firmly in the ground.

As he played, so does he manage, with pragmatism at his core and a deep-rooted wariness as to what fate holds in store.

Johnson was asked what he was feeling as Chris Ashton set off on his glory run, scoring a try which will be spoken of for years to come. "I was thinking that we've got to control the re-start and get the next points on the board."

He was serious. Excess has no place in the Johnson world view. In his lexicon, over-the-top can only mean leaving the trenches, certainly not wild celebration.

He responded to a point made about Ashton's 85-metre dash with an acknowledgement that none of it would have happened if Tom Palmer had not turned over Will Genia close to England's line. "Everyone wants to talk about the glory moments but they wouldn't happen if the nuts and bolts weren't in place," he stressed.

Suckered

England will not be suckered into a delusional state by this one mind-blowing experience. Yes, they did out-Aussie the Aussies, did blast them away at the contact area, did counter-attack with conviction as well as cleverness, did show that northern hemisphere rugby has the lungs as well as the intelligence to match the supposedly superior beings from south of the equator.

All of this was true of England as they compiled their record score against the Wallabies and equalled the record margin of victory.

England's backs prospered, Australia's, by and large, were shackled. That it finished two tries apiece only confirms Johnson's point. The margins are fine.

But England have come of age. Scrum-half Ben Youngs delivered one of the great performances in a No 9 shirt; Ashton is fast becoming as potent a weapon as Jason Robinson while unsung lock Palmer showed why he won't be unsung for much longer.

Mike Tindall lacked for nothing, while fly-half Toby Flood didn't miss a beat. Slick, purposeful, potent -- this is the new England. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

ENGLAND -- B Foden; C Ashton, M Tindall (D Armitage 63), S Hape, M Cueto; T Flood (C Hodgson 78), B Youngs (D Care 54); A Sheridan (D Wilson 66), D Hartley (S Thompson 70), D Cole, C Lawes, T Palmer (S Shaw 71), T Croft, L Moody (capt), N Easter (H Fourie 78).

AUSTRALIA -- K Beale; J O'Connor, A Ashley-Cooper, M Giteau (B Barnes 60), D Mitchell; Q Cooper, W Genia (L Burgess 49); B Robinson (J Slipper 54), S Moore, B Alexander, M Chisholm (D Mumm 57), N Sharpe, R Elsom (capt), D Pocock, B McCalman (R Brown 58).

Ref -- C Joubert (South Africa).

Irish Independent

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