Sunday 18 February 2018

England step on the gas to power past limp Wallabies


England's Marland Yarde makes a break against Australia during the International at Twickenham
England's Marland Yarde makes a break against Australia during the International at Twickenham

at Twickenham

Two tries in seven second-half minutes turned an error-strewn encounter into a welcome victory for an inexperienced England team. While Australia felt that both the tries scored by the men in white should have been ruled out, the Wallabies were shockingly ordinary, lacking menace and bite.

The England head coach, Stuart Lancaster, used club form as the barometer for his team selection and he was vindicated by the performances of Mike Brown and Billy Vunipola. It was their fifth consecutive victory here – and the last time they achieved that was in the year they won the World Cup, 2003.

It was 22 years to the day since Australia defeated England here in the World Cup final, a match in which the Wallabies' current head coach, Ewen McKenzie, played. He was part of a strong pack then but his side's scrummaging since then has been far more green than gold and England enjoyed immediate superiority in the set-piece as the rain that fell before the start melted into sunshine.

Australia were penalised at four scrums in the opening half but their weakness did not materialise into points for England, with Owen Farrell uncharacteristically wayward off the tee. He missed three consecutive penalties in a 14-minute spell after Quade Cooper had equalised the England fly-half's early kick and, while he regained the lead for his side after 28 minutes, he started to make mistakes in broken play.

If Australia had the advantage of being battle-hardened, England initially got their game plan to work, off-loading in contact to lift the pace of the game and thwarting the visitors at the breakdown.

England's problem was that the longer the game went on, the more they became individual rather than collective. Joel Tomkins made some telling tackles on his debut, including two on Israel Folau, preventing the full-back from getting into his stride. Another tyro, Billy Vunipola, left his calling card on defenders and Brown threatened with ball in hand, but at crucial times there was a lack of understanding that reflected a side with an average of 15 caps each.

Australia, despite Will Genia lacking his usual sharpness of mind, absorbed pressure comfortably, except when there was a scrum, and tended to return kicks in kind unless Folau had a chance to attack space.

Folau created the opening try nine minutes from the interval after Farrell's second penalty had put England 6-3 up. Australia, for once, won a scrum and moved the ball quickly. Cooper threw a long pass to Folau on the left, having earlier freed Nick Cummins with a flick out of the back of his hand.

Folau rounded Chris Ashton and, although he was hauled down by Tomkins five metres short of the line, two rucks later Genia used Michael Hooper as a decoy and passed to a second receiver, Matt Toomua, who charged through a weak tackle by Billy Twelvetrees to score under the posts.

Cooper added to his conversion four minutes later after Twelvetrees, with the Australia fly-half isolated in a ruck, flopped over the top and off his feet in an act that summed up England at that stage, raggedness breeding indiscipline. When Lee Dickson and Farrell then ruined an attack by not knowing where the other was, half-time was opportune.

Upon the resumption, after Cooper had missed a 30-metre penalty awarded after Marland Yarde had rashly taken out Adam Ashley-Cooper when the wing chipped towards the England line, England enjoyed the sort of fortune a team looking to find itself needs.

First, Brown was not spotted having his foot in touch before he returned a kick ahead, and when England were awarded a free-kick in Wallaby territory, which they took quickly, a pass that Australia claimed was forward was declared straight. Suddenly Yarde had a yard on the left, rounding Genia before being tackled into touch by Ashley-Cooper, who cut his head in the process and went off for repairs.

Play was held up for four minutes while Australia flanker Scott Fardy was treated for a head injury, carried from the field with his neck in a brace, and the delay affected the Wallabies, who called a shortened lineout five metres from their own line. Neither side had thrown in with any conviction and Courtney Lawes deflected Stephen Moore's throw.

The ball appeared to travel forward, but play went on and Australia secured the ball. Genia opted for a kick on his own line but, typical of his afternoon, it lacked height and struck the outstretched arm of Mako Vunipola. The ball travelled along the visitors' line and Chris Robshaw pounced on it to score his first try for England.

The scores were level but only for seven minutes. The try lifted England more than it stirred Australia and the home side applied their most concerted pressure. Brown, England's most effective player, broke two tackles and after Joe Marler, Yarde, Robshaw and Dan Cole had driven towards the line, Farrell provided the moment of the match. Australia's defence drifted across, expecting him to pass because he rarely poses a threat with the ball in hand, but this time Farrell held on to the ball and ran into the space which opened in front of him. He had been helped by a block by Dylan Hartley on Moore, which the TV match official looked at before ruling that the Australia hooker still had the chance to make his tackle.

There was no comeback from Australia, whose scrum remained a scar on their game, and England defended their lead in greater comfort than they should have enjoyed.

Scorers – England: Robshaw, Farrell try each; Farrell 2 cons, 2 pens. Australia: Toomau try; Cooper con, 2 pens.

England: Brown; Ashton, Tomkins, Twelvetrees (Flood 66), Yarde; Farrell, L Dickson (Youngs 54); Vunipola (Marler 54), Youngs (Hartley 54), Cole (Wilson 66), Launchbury (Attwood 75), Lawes, Wood, Robshaw, Vunipola (Morgan 66).

Australia: Folau; Ashley-Cooper (Foley 49), Kuridrani, Toomua, Cummins; Cooper, Genia (White 66); Slipper (Robinson 61), Moore (Faingaa 68), Alexander (Kepu 49), Timani (Douglas 62), Horwill, Fardy (McCalman 49), Hooper, Mowen.

Referee: G Clancy (Ireland)

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