Sport International Rugby

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Lancaster will be on alert as Australians get the better of All Blacks

Australia's Sekope Kepu bursts clear for his second-half try
Australia's Sekope Kepu bursts clear for his second-half try

Oliver Brown

Australia's 27-19 defeat of New Zealand on Saturday will have served as a timely reminder to Stuart Lancaster, whose England team must face these revived Australians at Twickenham on October 3.

For under Michael Cheika's iron stewardship, Australia are gathering an ominous momentum. In surging to a first Rugby Championship title since 2011, they have proved unrecognisable from the side who lost three of four internationals in Europe last autumn, beating South Africa in Brisbane, Argentina in Mendoza, and at last securing an edge over their bêtes noires from across the Tasman Sea on a rousing Saturday night at Sydney's ANZ Stadium.

Ever since the draw for next month's World Cup was made, they have looked the greatest danger to England and Wales in Pool A, but on this evidence, they can be considered legitimate second favourites behind New Zealand.

All across the pitch, Australia found a fresh dimension. Adam Ashley-Cooper was a wrecking ball on the wing, Matt Toomua and Nic White stated their case to be Cheika's first-choice half-back combination come the World Cup, while specialist open-sides Michael Hooper and David Pocock combined brilliantly in a ferocious back row.

Perhaps most worryingly for England, Australia prevailed here in spite of suggesting considerable margin for improvement in certain departments. The line-out was loose, Bernard Foley was often anonymous at No 10, the passing game of scrum-half Nick Phipps was a mess, and Cheika, who recognised his charges had to perform even better if they hoped to prise the Bledisloe Cup out of New Zealand's possession in Auckland on Saturday, was not about to sound any notes of triumphalism.

"Consistency is king," he argued. "We have just got to be level. You can't wipe away 50 good things someone does with one bad thing, and it works in the reverse as well. You don't just say you win once in quite a long time and think that you have done anything special."

He is wise to be cautious. Eden Park, where the Wallabies must reassert themselves this weekend, has traditionally been a citadel for the All Blacks.

Australia, coming off a 12-12 draw in Sydney last summer, travelled 'across the ditch' to Auckland and were promptly dealt a 51-20 thrashing. But if Cheika wanted to downplay the eulogies, there was still no disputing that his players had surmounted a major psychological obstacle. It would be premature, however, to hint that the era of All Blacks invincibility might be over on the basis of this one result. New Zealand have acquired a useful habit of redoubling their intensity at rare moments of adversity.

Australia should take the admission by Richie McCaw that he and his team-mates were "hurting" very seriously.

McCaw, whose record-equalling 141st Test appearance was disfigured by this experience, will be desperate to avert a repeat on home turf when he surpasses Brian O'Driscoll's record as the most capped international in history.

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