As the clock strikes zero on the Australian Rugby Season 2014, another opportunity to establish ascendency over our Northern Hemisphere rivals and World Cup Hosts has slipped through our fingers. The tied worst Spring Tour ever for the Wallabies culminated in another heartbreaking loss, this time at the hands of the Old Enemy 26-17.
A brilliantly sunny day at the home of Rugby had those fans making the trip over to Twickenham excited for the spectacle of another timeless clash, and they weren’t to be disappointed. A minutes applause for Australian batsman Phillip Hughes, who passed away earlier this week in tragic circumstances, transcended the bonds of competition as respects were paid to a man who will live forever in the hearts of all that knew him. After the game, Michael Cheika answered the question on everyone’s lips (luckily I asked first!) that the Wallabies struggled to close out these tight games because of a lack of self belief, but I’m not sure I agree. The Wallabies definitely gave it their all, and the game was within reach all the way to the 78th minute.
England showed some early signs of how they were going to play this game by returning the Wallaby kickoff with a rolling maul. After driving the visiting pack from 22 to 40, England broke quickly, pressing the advantage by throwing an offload, but the accuracy wasn’t there. Australia win a penalty from the ensuing ruck, and kick for touch from halfway. The ball lands just inside the 22, and the roar of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” greets Saia Fainga’a. An inside ball from Bernard Foley to Rob Horne carries the Wallabies over the advantage line. Perhaps surprisingly given their pregame threat to slow down Wallaby ruck ball, England haven’t really contested the breakdown yet. England are penalised for being offside, and Bernard Foley takes the lead for Australia just 3 minutes in.
Australia try to run the ball off their own goaline by shovelling passes wide, but don’t get far, resorting to clearing instead. England take the lineout quickly, and their slippery fullback Mike Brown attacks the Aussie line. Simmons goes down, hurt, but plays on. England are attacking one out through the forwards, but have threatened to go wide. When they do, it’s easy metres for speedster Jonny May. Henry Speight was caught out position, but it could be argued that he needed to cover the man inside May. Australia do well in slowing the ball down from that ruck, but give away a penalty in centre field. Billy Twelvetrees attempts to seize the advantage by firing a wide ball, but it’s knocked on by Bath winger Anthony Watson.
Australia registered some good carries early, with Israel Folau getting involved early and Sean McMahon putting in a big carry as well, spinning and pumping his legs to earn plenty of metres. The Wallabies gave away a penalty in that ruck, and England progress inside the 22. England’s Dylan Hartley throws to the back, but the ball is overthrown and England’s blindside Tom Wood can’t control it. Australia avoid a crisis with England’s strong rolling maul, but may have given away a penalty through a scrum.
The first scrum battle is delayed as a team physio checks out Rob Simmons left shoulder, but the half-centurion cap doesn’t leave the field. With French referee Garcee officiating the atmosphere within Twickenham Stadium is tense, but the Wallabies clear the ball just fine. Bernard Foley sends a banana kick down to Mike Brown (great tactical kick!), which is missed. Brown picks up, a boots a bomb in to the midfield. After running in to the back of Ben McCalman, Brown tumbles to the ground in tears, channeling the very best of European football in his effort. As the physios return on to the field, the referee penalises Australia, and England take a 6-3 lead.
Israel Folau is showing some great signs as he beat five tacklers on a tightly contested kick. Through some dynamic midfield play from James Slipper, an offload sets Australia’s attacking sites on the sideline. A 2 on 1 opportunity is squandered when Adam Ashley-Cooper dummies the final pass, but with the lack of space available outside the decision couldn’t be faulted. England soon earned a 5 metre scrum, relieving the pressure on the home side.
Bernard Foley is defending the left flank, but switches with Folau as the lineout as thrown – clearly anticipating an England bomb towards Australia’s pint sized flyhalf, clever tactic. A great Matt Toomua offload for Michael Hooper splits the England defence in two, and a great line from the Australian captain might have created a try. A slip ended the chance.
England put a high bomb up for Henry Speight, who bobbles the ball. England are in perfect position to wrestle a scrum penalty from the Australians, not quite 30 out and dead centre of the pitch. Instead, England send a full frontal assault down the left flank, with a 5 on 3 overlap in 15 metres of space created. A knock on from the left winger Jonny May? ruin a certain try. A great show of creativity from the English.
Australia are still lining up deep, but the attack has looked good so far. The english failure to maintain a uniform defensive line has created opportunities for Australia’s talented off loaders to create a bit of space.
Pressure in the breakdown forces the ball out of the ruck, and a dangerous flick pass from Matt Toomua goes to ground. 60 metres out, an English boot sends the ball grubbering down to the 40. A strong chase from Adam Ashley-Cooper saves the day for the Wallabies.
Australia attack to the right, with a halfback loop putting Henry Speight in a bit of space. Taking the contact, England give away a penalty. the Wallabies kick for the line, and drive a maul down in tight. Earning another penalty, the Wallabies kick across field for Rob Horne, who taps the ball up for himself – but can’t regather. Australia go again at the line, but the forwards can’t punch through some tight english defence. England fought well for a half dozen phases, but Captain Chris Robshaw fights for a turnover.
A long, swirling kick for Israel Folau is allowed to bounce, and the Wallaby fullback knocks on after copping a difficult bounce of the ball. England pack a scrum on the far right field, inside the 22.
England line up with Ford at first receiver, and 3 options lined up directly behind him – a move favoured by the Waratahs. The ball doesn’t go out initially, and England drive the Wallaby scrum back several metres. Outside centre Brad Barritt runs a great line back in to traffic, and with that quick ball England pass one out for their dynamic Number 8 Ben Morgan, who rumbles over for the first try of the match. A quick TMO decision later, Australia are down 13-3.
Scrappy play is the only thing limiting the Australians – they got it right in the first 20 of this half, but in the last 10 it’s not looked fantastic.
The Wallabies are being sucked in to playing Egnalnd’s game! With a back three where no-one can kick, England feel easy just peppering the corners with long kicks. Henry Speight is caught out of position again – but Folau hasn’t got his back either.
Australia earn a penalty in midfield and kick for the 22. One lineout loss later, England have cleared the ball. The Wallabies have done really well this game at creating half (alright, quarter) chances, but just haven’t been able to make the clean breaks. An excellent box kick from Dan Youngs creates a full chance for England though, as Brown as Watson tear down the sideline. Horne wins the footrace, just.
For however good Australia can play with ball in the hand, it’s far too scrappy for a lot of the time. Balls go to ground with incredible frequency when the Wallabies are on attack. It starts with the halfback, but the ball skills of the Wallabies when attacking wide need improvement. Get Bob Dwyer on the case! With England exerting tremendous pressure on the Australian game, the Wallabies need to go about their attack a little smarter than they have been. I’m not advocating conservatism, just that they pick their moments.
Australia leak another penalty when Sam Carter barges through the ruck with scant regard for the gate. 2 steps inside 50, George Ford gives it plenty – the ball travelled 60 metres in the air – but is wide of the mark. Garcee whistles for halftime, and both teams travel into the sheds.
Rob Simmons is taken off at halftime and replaced by Luke Jones in the second row. It’s barely gone 2 minutes and England has earned another George Ford another shot. It’s a stinker, barely clearing the try line. The Wallabies 22 dropout is returned with a midfield bomb, which Israel Folau defuses with easy despite plenty of attention. That man races through the line just a minute later, and the Wallabies are on the attack. Another inside ball from Foley to Rob Horne left England clutching at air as the Wallaby wing tore through the line, and with the fullback to beat a simple draw and pass to Foley cut England’s lead to 3.
With that try, Foley is replaced by Quade Cooper with 35 left to play! James Slipper is down and the Physio’s seem to be checking his knee. He remains on. The English miss the strike on their own scrum feed, and Sean McMahon pinches the loose ball. Cooper plugs two very different kicks, one swirling punt and one deep grubber, and they both cause the English a lot of trouble. A phenomenal leap from Adam Ashley Cooper recovers the ball in a dangerous position. The English have stepped up the aerial assault, put a lot of pressure on the Wallaby backfield.
Nick White is brought on. Cheika explained pre-game that the selection was to give him a chance to impress.
Sekope Kepu went down hard in a 50th scrum, and is getting plenty of attention on his left leg. The big man gets up, and is replaced by Ben Alexander. He jogs off unassisted, but looks pretty uncomfortable.
A touch of Quade Cooper magic threads Adam Ashley Cooper straight through a non-existent hole in the defence, and the Wallabies attack again. The uptempo offence just looks better with Cooper in it! Courtney Lawes is being assisted off the field after playing a monster game – got through a ton of work in just 54 minutes. England throw to the back of a lineout shortly after, and set up a driving maul. Doesn’t meet the same success as their earlier one, and Mike Brown sends a perfectly weighted grubber kick just short of the In-goal. Quade Cooper had the option to kick it out, but thought better of it. With the 5 metre scrum, a huge English effort on the tight head side pushes Australia over the line. Number 8 Ben Morgan scores his second as a result of the pushover, and George Ford nails his conversion from the sideline – 4/6.
Will Skelton comes on for McMahon, Luke Jones moves to blindside. Quade throws another pinpoint accurate pass, and that sets up the Wallabies to attack wide. If there was a second accurate pass Rob Horne might have had a crack at the try line, but it wasn’t to be. Adam Ashley Cooper takes contact, sucking in 5 defenders, creating not a whole lot of space for Will Skelton to barge through. When you’re that big you don’t much. A Quade Cooper conversion takes the game to a 3 point affair, where England lead with 20 to go.
Horne suffered a head clash with Brad Barritt, the Englishmen was sent from the field, but Horne got it taped and stayed on the field. No concussion test? slightly surprising. England take a lineout, and win a penalty. George Ford steps up to the plate again, nails his kick. Beale is on for Henry Speight. Let’s see if he’ll play that second fullback role he played last week. He’s linig up on the right wing though..
England have injected a bit more oomph into their defensive line. The shots are ringing out loud across the Twickenham pitch.
James Slipper has come off, and Benn Robinson in classic FatCat fashion has knocked on. England boot the loose ball down to the goal line, and Israel Folau grounds it. England force Quade Cooper in to touch, and England make a substitute at halfback. They need it.
The Two Coopers, Quade and Adam Ashley, certainly have a chemistry together, with the former sharp switch sends the Waratah 13 streaking through the line. With no support, Swoop takes contact. The Wallaby pack roll through the phases to the right, but on the 7th phase Israel Folau said, Let There Be Tries! With hands on the ball, Folau created a hole for Rob Horne on the left wing by sprinting at the man marking him. A loose pass killed the opportunity, but the Wallabies were exposing English weaknesses all over the pitch seemingly at will. Post-game, Michael Hooper remarked on how frustrating it was to have the ability to create chances at will, but not be able to do it consistently.
England responded by bringing the game back to their own strengths – winning a lineout and driving a maul from halfway to the Wallaby 30. England spread the ball wide, but couldn’t break free. Centreing the ball with penalty advantage, George Ford tried to take the score past a one possession game with a drop goal, which was missed.
The chorus of Swing Low roared across the 82,031 strong crowd before dropping to dead silence for the kick. Ford’s kick struck true, and the Wallabies need a miracle to win this game now. Quade Cooper tried to spark that very miracle, but got the absolute stuffing belted out of him in a ball and all tackle. England substituted the tackler, midfielder Brad “The Rock” Barritt, and replaced him with flyer Marland Yarde. With a significant defensive presence missing, the Wallabies could only see this a chance. With a minute and half to go, the English predictably took their time to pack their scrum.
When they finally did, Benn Robinson was split in just about two from a wheeling England scrum. With 30 seconds to go, Australia earned a penalty and took a quick tap. With front foot ball from the Skelton carry, Nick White fired a pass wide to no-one. With a lineout as time expired, the Wallabies lost their third consecutive match, finishing their worst Spring Tour in nearly a decade.
Two tryscorer Ben Morgan was named man of the match, but the award should have been split between all members of England’s forward pack. They set the platform from which England won the match, and Courtney Lawes was the biggest part of that. In his 50 minutes I’m certain no-one made more tackles, or hit more rucks. An incredible performance from a man England will not want to miss during the World Cup.