England 26 Australia 17: Three talking points as the Red Rose bulldoze the Wallabies
Harry Reardon assesses England's performance after their impressive win over Australia at Twickenham
England dominance up front hides defensive concerns
As we have known for some time, England possess a powerful pack. The Red Rose front eight drove Australia backwards from a scrum on their own five metre line to win a penalty in the early stages, and bullied the Wallabies at another just before the half hour to allow Morgan to give England the lead. Their second try – Morgan again, after a scorching run from Jonny May to force a five metre scrum – felt almost inevitable. Meanwhile, Courtney Lawes was indomitable in the loose, with one try-saving tackle after 15 minutes a particular highlight. All of which was a good thing too. Australia looked extremely dangerous in the backline, forcing far too many overlaps for the home side’s liking, but too often their sparks were snuffed out by knock-ons, holding on at the breakdown or poor decision-making in the loose. After an autumn series littered with fumbles and mistakes from England, it was Australia who were the looser outfit today. The Red Rose cannot always rely on such generosity.
England’s centrepiece leaves questions still unanswered
Will Greenwood and Mike Tindall. Jeremy Guscott and Will Carling. Some England centre partnerships roll off the tongue. Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt does not instinctively stir the sinews, although many would argue that at least it is a pairing which does not include Owen Farrell, an extremely effective square peg when on form but not one, on last week’s evidence against Samoa, who can effortlessly squeeze into a round hole. Granted, England find themselves a little on the back foot in the backline at the moment with the injuries to Manu Tuilagi and Luther Burrell, and a glance at the most regularly used partnerships at 12 and 13 over recent years at least suggests that those four names are where things pretty much stand. Of the others to have featured in the same partnership for five or more games since 2003, Mike Catt is now in the England backroom, Mathew Tait is an injury-ravaged full back, Shontayne Hape, Jamie Noon and Mike Tindall have retired, while judging from Riki Flutey’s Twitter account, his current interests lie less in the restructuring of the England midfield than “the hire, sale and modification of new and refurbished shipping containers.” And you can’t say fairer than that. And so what today of the kicking-inclined Twelvetrees and the defensively-minded Barritt? Reasonable – Barritt in particular looked fearless – but not unstoppable. The Red Rose should feel confident enough that their core will withstand much of the barrage that will come from many teams, but this was not a pairing to thrill for the ages. One suspects that Stuart Lancaster will want to keep shuffling.
How much of a marker is this?
England do not have long to go before the start of the World Cup. Essentially, the Six Nations is next, and in terms of true competition, that’s it. And so much of the talk before this game for England was of the importance of victory, of laying down a marker against one of their group stage opponents. And they duly won; but does it truly matter? Last year’s iteration of this fixture saw England beat Australia 20-13, but of the 30 starters who took the field then, a mere ten – five on each side – took the field for kick-off today. Of course, we are now a year closer to the big event. But a few games ago, Owen Farrell was untouchable. Semesa Rokoduguni was the man of the moment. The Vunipolas were going to drive their adopted country to glory. It is always tempting to draw grand conclusions, particularly given that there are so relatively few games at international level from which to look to do so. But for however well Ben Morgan played; however disappointing Billy Twelvetrees, however impressive Courtney Lawes, this is not the be-all and end-all for England’s World Cup hopes. The Red Rose’s next most exciting prospect is probably Sam Burgess. This time last year, he was playing a different sport. While there is no guarantee that Burgess, if he indeed makes it into this team, will not turn out to be more of a Henry Paul than a Jason Robinson, if a week is a long time in politics, ten months is even longer in rugby.