England – Australia World Cup battle
Australian rugby showed their mark of respect on Saturday, after the shocking death of Test cricketer Phillip Hughes. Australia batsman Hughes, 25, died on Thursday, two days after being struck on the neck during a domestic match in Australia. Wallabies captain Michael Hooper had declared: “We play in a sport luckily where we don’t see these things happen. We love our cricket; we have good feelings towards the cricketers. Our thoughts and feelings are with his family and the team back home.”
In the match, Australia had 66% of possession but England came away with the final victory. England didn’t clutter the midfield as they had done in their previous test matches but rather applied a much more effective kicking game (30 compared to the wallabies’ 14). The hosts played to their strengths and turned position into points and confirmed that their set-piece is a platform that success can be built on. The scrum was devastatingly strong against Australia and their driving maul was so effective that in fear of it Quade Cooper chose not to run the ball into touch after Mike Brown’s chip which in turn led to the scrum from which Ben Morgan scored his second, and decisive, try.
Another standout performer was George Ford, who made a significant difference to the way England used possession thanks to his decision making speed and down to the basics approach. This does not mean the end of Owen Farrell at number 10, as England’s next match against Wales in the 5 nations will see the oppositions’ big backs trying to strike down that central channel. Though Ford is not shy to a challenge it will be the balance between attack and defence that will be in the back of the selectors’ minds when making this decision. Ford played in the right areas against Australia and the ball got to the wings well, but his pure goal-kicking ability is not up there with Farrell just yet.
There have been a lot of confusing decisions from Lancaster in these autumn tests, and no such experiments can be attempted during the vital 6-nations campaign but with the return of Manu Tuilagi, Alex Corbisiero, MakoVunipola, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling and Tom Croft the decisions look a little easier.
Australia on the other hand, have to start work now, with the World Cup in mind. Head coach Michael Cheika had no time to prepare for this tour after taking over from Ewen McKenzie a few days before the squad flew out and has not yet been able to bring in his coaching team. Having said this though, a close victory over Wales and narrow defeats against Ireland and France before Twickenham do not imply the team is in a crisis, but the scrimmaging is a real weakness that needs urgent attention. With players of the calibre of Matt Toomua, TevitaKuridrani, Israel Folau, Quade Cooper and Will Genia in their backline they have a huge potential and with just 4 test matches, one with New Zealand, before Wales and then England at the World Cup, Cheika does have a great deal to do, but he is no stranger to this kind of challenge.