A lot of rugby games turn on one incident that changes the fortunes of both teams. Yesterday at Twickenham was no exception.
For the first 50 minutes England looked exactly what they were – a team who hadn’t played together for months and with limited international experience. The Wallabies on the other hand had started to look more like the real thing with Quade Cooper’s slick distribution causing England’s back line some real problems – not least leading to Matt Toomua barging his way over Billy Twelvetrees for a well-constructed try and a 13 – 6 lead at the break.
England looked rusty and didn’t start the second half much better but then came the turning point. Mike Brown who hadn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon actually did – his toes balanced right on the side line as he knocked a monster kick from Toomua back into play. Was he out? Almost certainly yes, but the touch judge thought not and play continued with Brown leading the charge up field that ultimately led to a try for his captain Chris Robshaw.
Mako Vunipola, who had a good all round game, charged down Genia’s kick from close to the line and Robshaw pounced for the five points.
What should have been a lineout a few yards from the England line instead resulted in the score being level at 13 -13.
Suddenly England started to believe in themselves – Courtenay Lawes showed why he is being lauded as the new Martin Johnson and the back row eclipsed the threat from their Aussie counterparts – even the brilliant Michael Hooper.
England’s efforts were helped by the introduction of Hartley and (Ben) Youngs who should really have been there from the kick –off.
Australia’s woes were compounded by Owen Farrell skating between two props for a try under the posts. The decision was referred to see if Hartley had helped clear the path with an obstruction but whilst Farrell is no Jason Robinson he would have easily outstripped the prop.
At 20 – 13 England were certainly not out of sight but Australia continued to persist with a kicking game and the home team dealt with that with little trouble. Why a side that is loaded with talented backs adopts a plan that is reliant on the other team dropping the ball or being caught in possession I have no idea – which is exactly what they had!
As predicted the Australian front row struggled all afternoon in the scrum – they must have been thankful that Corbisiero is injured and that David Wilson was stuck on the bench for much of the match.
If only the Wallabies can get some sort of parity up front then the likes of Cooper, Folau, Toomua, Turidrani and Adam Ashley Cooper will have the room to carve up any side – just as they did in the movement leading to their try. Genia will seldom have such a poor day as yesterday but it wasn’t his fault alone that they lost.
Wallaby fans will bemoan Brown’s tip toeing a fine line but the team were the architects of their own downfall in the end.
The Wallabies will put away the Azzuri next week with something to spare but then they have the three Celtic nations to worry about – none of whom are mugs in the front row.
Ewen McKenzie needs to find a way to boss the breakdown so that one of the best backlines in world rugby can light up the turf – until then they will continue to struggle on the back foot.
As for England – the second half was much better after a first 50 minutes to forget. But it wasn’t anywhere good enough and the All Blacks will not be losing any sleep.
Changes? I’d start with Hartley, Wilson, Ben Youngs and team Luther Burell with Tomkins in the centre. Yesterday’s starting side would struggle when Steve Hansen’s men arrive at Twickenham – the management need to give better combinations a chance next week against the Pumas.
It won’t happen of course but then it’s easy to be right from an armchair.