Saturday, 7 November 2009

The Wilko Show?

England 9 - 18 Australia

Jonny Wilkinson's return to fitness and the England squad seems somewhat ironic at a time when his England team mates are keeping the physios and surgeons very busy.  His first game for England in eighteen months was supposed to herald a new start for Martin Johnson's England, and a chance for the returning World Cup winning hero of 2003 to help usher the patched together and youthful looking England team to a winning start in this year's Autumn Internationals.

The lesser spotted injury free Wilkinson

Sadly, this didn't happen.

On a personal level, Wilkinson had a pretty good game.  He settled the nerves of an expectant Twickenham by slotting an opening drop goal and coolly adding three points with a calmly taken penalty that flew through the centre of the posts, all in the first ten minutes.  6-0 to England.

In fact it was a good start for England.  Steve "Hey You Guys" Thompson looks to have worked on his line out throwing which was always an Achilles heel for the hooker, and Deacon, Borthwick and Croft were quick to snaffle all the line out ball.

As the game started to settle down, number eight Jordan Crane seemed to be everywhere in the first quarter, although Ugo Monye apparently forgot that he was playing at full back and kept popping up on the wing.  Who covered his position?  Why, Wilkinson of course.

After fifteen minutes, an ill-disciplined Australia had conceded four penalties, which gave Wilkinson the opportunity to stretch the league with his third attempt on goal from the half way line.  The ball flew through the air from Wilkinson's boot and tantalisingly bounced off the post.

Australia scrum half Will Genia looked sharp and sparky throughout the game.  In a move reminiscent of his try against New Zealand last weekend, Genia picked up the ball from the breakdown, and his dinking run through the gap left by a wandering Geraghty allowed him to waltz over the try line for a relatively soft try.  Giteau pushed the conversion across the face of the posts to leave England clinging on to a 6-5 lead after twenty one minutes.

Will Genia: irritatingly good

England finally went on a brief offensive of the Aussie line with Wilkinson popping a high cross field kick towards 6ft 7" Matt Banahan.  Banahan barely came off his wing all afternoon, and I can only deduce that this is because he has a rubbish sense of direction and needs sight of the whitewash at all times - much like how Hansel and Gretl needed the trail of breadcrumbs.  Banahan passed to Hipkiss who used his strength to bash through the  Aussie line, before Danny Care received the ball and cleverly chipped a cross field kick towards the opposite wing, knowing full well that the referee was playing advantage and the penalty in front of the posts was in the bag.  Wilkinson lined up the kick and booted it over with his eyes closed.  9-5 to England after 27 minutes.

If you had told me at this point that England's points scoring was done for the afternoon I wouldn't have believed you, but sadly that was the case.  England only seemed to pick up the points from Australian penalties, and after twenty nine minutes Australia had conceded six to England's zero.  In fairness, Wilkinson didn't receive the ball in the right places to open up the England backline, and whilst England seemed able to pass the ball up and down the line they never really threatened Australia in midfield and never looked likely to score a try. 

At half time, I would say that England had the best of the first half, and they went in at the break up at 9-5.

Then it all went wrong.  Australia came back out and completely bossed the second half. 

Immediately after the break, Australia pressurized the England line and look destined to cross.  However the English defence remained solid and the Wallabies got a case of white-line fever.  Cueto stuck a boot in and cleared the ball to release the pressure, but he was pinged for being offside which allowed Giteau to line up the three points.  9-8 to England.

Time for some impact substitutions, and after fifty five minutes James Haskell and Dylan Hartley took off their tracksuits and danced on to the pitch where they made some strong carries.  Courtney Lawes came on a few minutes later but didn't get much of a chance to show why everyone is hyping him up as the next Martin Johnson.

The Wallabies were in complete control of the second half and almost crossed the try line again, but England were saved as centre Digby Ioane flapped when he saw the try line and fumbled the ball.  It was a get out of jail card for England, not least for makeshift full back Ugo Monye who missed the crucial tackle.

Duncan Bell then came on to replace David Wilson and he immediately got penalised for collapsing the scrum when he fell flat on his face like a deflated soufflé.  Replays showed this was unfair on Bell as it was the binding of the Australian loosehead that flopped.  It should have been a penalty for England, but instead Giteau whacked the ball straight through the centre of the posts to give Australia the lead for the first time.  9-11 with twenty minutes to go.

After that is was all Australia and they showed their class in the second half.  Apart from a break from Haskell and the deft skills of Wilkinson who created a sublime chip, chase, catch and quick pass to Monye, England struggled to get out of first gear.

Try time yet again for 'tashe-tasic Ashley-Cooper

It was left to Adam Ashley-Cooper with his Movember moustache to stamp home the Wallabies' authority with a great try, all from Genia's quick ball and Giteau's expert pass.  Ashley-Cooper mowed down four England defenders as he powered over from twenty metres with very impressive leg strength.  Giteau showed that there were two excellent place-kicking fly halves on the pitch, as he easily converted the try to take the score to 9-18 which is where it remained for the final eight minutes.

After a solid start from England it was a comfortable win for Australia, and unfortunately my prediction for Australia to win by 6 to 10 points came true.  Will Genia was deservedly the man of the match, and worryingly for the rest of the world he looked like a young George Gregan in the making.

In conclusion...

Whilst the England midfield was good defensively it wasn't particularly dynamic in attack.  Geraghty didn't provide many options other than the inside ball, which Australia soon got the measure of. 

Still, there were some positives for England.  Wilkinson put in some technically perfect, strong driving tackles, his tactical kicking improved as the game went on and he demonstrated his trademark quick hands, along with his perfectly composed place kicking.  Lewis Moody was another Englishman who had an impressive game.  Not only did he manage to control himself and help shake off the mantle of being a 'walking penalty machine' but he was excellent at the breakdown and got the better of his opposite number George Smith.

England need to work on sparking some life into their backline before they face Argentina next weekend.  If they don't then I expect them to be hammered by New Zealand in a couple of weeks time.

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