TWICKENHAM, London — Those ageless rugby idioms of matches being decided by the bounce of the ball and it being a game of inches will forever be ingrained in this Test’s tale.
England went on to win comfortably, on the scoreboard at least, but this was far closer than the 24-point gap. Three main events will dominate the post-mortem. Firstly, Michael Hooper’s disallowed first-half try for which the referee Ben O’Keeffe deemed him offside in the build-up. That was harsh. Secondly, after what seemed to be an age as the referee deliberated Elliot Daly’s score with the TMO, it was decided the ball just about stayed in touch. Correct call.
Australia suffered a fifth successive defeat to England as the hosts ran out 30-6 winners at Twickenham.
And then thirdly, the decision which saw Michael Cheika — Cheika-cam was great value at Twickenham — leave his seat and walk towards the bench followed their disallowed score on the 70th minute after the official deemed Stephen Moore to be obstructing Chris Robshaw from the rampaging Marika Koroibete. Again, correct call.
Twickenham was eerily quiet last week, but the atmosphere was vibrant under the raining, menacing, chilly night sky. This was England’s fifth consecutive victory over Australia under Eddie Jones; on such runs belief forms. The 30-6 victory will reverberate around world rugby, but Australia were far better than that scoreline suggested.
Twickenham is yet to fall under Jones, but a combination of last weekend’s shaky win over Argentina and Australia’s impressive form in recent times created an air of concern. It was easy to forget this week that England have lost just once under Jones, are second in the world and have an injury list to rival most. Even the England coach at one point seemed a little exasperated at the tales of England’s decline following their victory over Argentina.
So with that hovering in the London air, England brought fire and brimstone to Australia, who replied in kind with a performance of sheer belligerence, headlined by their hard-hitting backs who brought their own share of physical percussion to an occasion punctuated by kicking and bone-shaking tackles.
The scoreline flattered England but they will care not a jot. Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury were heroic; both are surely un-droppable. Maro Itoje’s 63-minute cameo at blindside was effective, after Sam Underhill left the field for an HIA, and the trio’s form gives Jones further depth in an already crowded part of the team.
Launchbury did plenty of the hard graft, constantly being the first man to loose balls and then carrying into the heart of Australia’s defence. Lawes left his mark on Kurtley Beale early on and enjoyed some larceny with the Wallabies lineout. But this was about a collective effort, sharing the workload from one through to 15. Jonathan Joseph seldom had a chance to carry with ball in hand but will feel the effects of a stirring effort in defence, while Anthony Watson was solid under the high ball in his first Test start at fullback.
These are the signs of England still developing their attacking game under Jones but the reunited Ben Youngs-George Ford-Owen Farrell axis gave them stability and a calmness which they lacked against Argentina.
There were plenty of kicks launched from both sides as the rain came down throughout, but it was Youngs’ arrowed kick towards Australia’s right wing which saw Daly clip the ball forward after it had stayed a single blade of grass from going into touch. They say you make your own luck; England will attest to that as they rest bruised bodies but it was a try they deserved at that stage of the match.
This was the best Australia performance we have seen in the Jones-Michael Cheika era. Cheika was furious with some of the officiating and while Jones will say England edged this, Cheika will see it as an opportunity missed. The Hooper call is ambiguous at best, but Koroibete should have scored prior to the effort which was disallowed for Moore’s involvement.
Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi were superb in Australia’s midfield while Beale looked constantly dangerous. Koroibete was solid in defence — similar to Lawes he put in some huge hits — and is not shy of stretching his legs and escaping England defenders while Michael Hooper, bar the yellow card, showed why he is the world’s best openside at present.
The Wallabies will only improve. With debutant Blake Enever fast-tracked into the squad with Adam Coleman a late withdrawal, it shows Cheika’s trust in youth as he reinvents his side for a second time during his tenure. They will be a force come 2019, make no mistake about that.
This victory was key for Jones’ team. After a week of external doubt — they maintained their introspective attitude which has been a constant theme during this autumn spell — they answered any remaining doomsayers with a performance, as Jones calls it, of ‘English rugby’.
It was passion, heart and physicality rolled up to get them over the line. Swing, Low rang out at full time. All was well in the world for England.