Thursday 21 September 2017

England 'flying' after comeback – Farrell

England 20 Australia 13

England's Owen Farrell clears the ball as Australia's Will Genia attempts to block his kick at Twickenham on Saturday
England's Owen Farrell clears the ball as Australia's Will Genia attempts to block his kick at Twickenham on Saturday

Mick Cleary

There was a glint in English eyes on Saturday night, a feeling that a bogey had been laid to rest and a staging post set for the 2015 World Cup.

Stuart Lancaster's regime does not tolerate preening or pomposity but confidence is another matter entirely.

Disturbingly for Australians, there was no grandstanding, no over-the-top celebration. This was a job done. The manner of the win was matter-of-fact in its execution, derived from inner resolve, togetherness, cussed defence and, almost inevitably, dodgy officiating.

Never mind the fitful display, this was a significant moment for England, a World Cup foe felled, a notch on the belt for another day. England return to training camp today buoyed by victory, spurred by the need to improve as Argentina arrive in town, soon to be followed by New Zealand.

"Our confidence will be flying after that," said fly-half Owen Farrell, another 15 points logged against his name, including his first Test try.

"The character the lads showed and the fight, we can take a lot from that. The way we came out and took the game to them in the second half was outstanding. There is a lot to work on but we can build from that."

So much twaddle is spouted about the value of performance as if rugby were ice-skating. There are no marks for artistic merit on the scoreboard, only the result. The straggling train of 2003 World Cup winners that did a lap of honour at half-time lived by that creed. Squeaky-bum contests against Samoa and Wales in that tournament will still be causing them unsettled nights. That team found ways to win. Lancaster's generation are on that wavelength. Farrell himself was not fazed by his three consecutive penalty misses in the first half. If converted, England might have been 15-3 ahead.

"I learned pretty early on in my career not to let missed kicks affect me," said Farrell. "If you focus on what has just happened you are not going to have a grip on the game and that is what a 10's job is. You put it behind you and move on."

No-one was claiming that this was a vintage display by England. This was not the sumptuous victory over Australia recorded in 2010, or the gilded dismantling of the All Blacks 12 months ago. It was a patchy, niggardly game. But the outcome was hugely significant. And there were notable advances made.

Mike Brown was restored to where he belongs at full-back, the anti-star to his opposite number, Israel Folau, the athletic freak who garners headlines for his wonderful ability. Brown is spindly by comparison yet every bit Folau's equal. In fact, on Saturday, he trumped him. He made yardage, leapt high and assuredly, hit hard and was at the heart of England's big moments. Brown made a difference and that is the hallmark of a real performer.

There were other encouraging signs. Billy Vunipola confirmed his promise and there were a couple of dangerous dashes from Marland Yarde, only a bone-crunching last-ditch tackle from Adam Ashley-Cooper denying the London Irish wing a try, England going on to score from that position through Chris Robshaw as he latched on to a loose ball. Yarde is still raw but full of running.

Robshaw deserves immense credit, for his captaincy, which can be seen to carry weight given England's measured second-half response, as well as for his play. With Tom Wood in tandem, the English flankers brought plenty of wallop and cleverness to the fray.

The scrum went well, the line-out did not. There is plenty to address there. So too in the midfield where Billy Twelvetrees played as he has for Gloucester this season, with jittery inconsistency. He was at fault for Australia's try on the half-hour mark, his opposite number Matt Toomua smashing through him.

With a 13-6 advantage at the interval, Australia ought to have been well set. Through clenched teeth they didn't complain unduly about the howler that allowed Brown to counter-attack even though his foot had been in touch as he fielded a kick, his surge up-field leading eventually to the Robshaw try. Claims that a Dylan Hartley obstruction opened up the field for Farrell's try midway through the second half were rightly dismissed.

England deserved their slice of good fortune. They had pressed and created, forcing Australia on to the back foot.

There are no more than tiny green shoots in the English garden this morning. Only the next fortnight will tell us if there is to be real growth. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

England – M Brown; C Ashton, J Tomkins, B Twelvetrees (T Flood 66), M Yarde; O Farrell, L Dickson (B Youngs 54); M Vunipola (J Marler 54), T Youngs (D Hartley 54), D Cole (D Wilson 66), J Launchbury (D Attwood 75), C Lawes, T Wood, C Robshaw, B Vunipola (B Morgan 66).

Australia – I Folau; A Ashley-Cooper (B Foley 49), T Kuridrani, M Toomua, N Cummins; Q Cooper, W Genia (N White 66); J Slipper (B Robinson 61), S Moore (S Faingaa 68), B Alexander (S Kepu 49), S Timani (K Douglas 62), J Horwill, S Fardy (B McCalman 49), M Hooper, B Mowen.

Ref – G Clancy (Ireland)

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