A devastating final 10 minutes from England’s finishers – alongside a healthy dose of good fortune – led to a resounding victory over Australia on Saturday. Here are four things we learned from a much more enjoyable game of rugby.
Danny Care is the arch-finisher
A confession here: I was unable to watch the game in real-time, so caught up on Sunday. This meant I was already aware of the result and Danny Care’s headline-stealing cameo performance (made two, scored one). It also meant I kept a close eye on Ben Youngs performance in the initial 70 minutes, under the assumption many would be calling for Care to take over the nine jersey on a permanent basis.
Firstly, Care. Nick Evans – Care’s former teammate and now part of the coaching set up at Harlequins – wrote in The Guardian on Sunday about how much work Care has put into improving his kicking game, usually the main criticism of him: ‘He has worked really hard on seeing the space in behind and when the opportunities are there in the big games, he really nails it.’
The key phrase here is ‘seeing the space’; Care’s vision is sublime right now – and not just seeing the space to kick into, but running the right support lines, just as he did to finish off Jonny May’s delightful chip and gather. Care was brilliant on Saturday.
However, back to Youngs. As I said, I kept a close eye on Youngs throughout the game and thought he was also brilliant. He marshalled his pack well, his delivery was snappier, he threatened and made a couple of half breaks that nearly came to fruition, and also had great vision to pump the ball up into the space behind the Australia line that led to Kurtley Beale’s embarrassing brain-fade and Elliot Daly’s fortuitous try (more on that later).
This was in part because of the better performance by the England pack – their carrying as a unit was much improved on the Argentina game and it gave Youngs front-foot ball to work with. Youngs had a fair amount of criticism doled on him after the game against the Pumas, but the fact is a scrum half will always struggle when they have languid, scrappy ball to work with – the difference in quality of ball for the nine was night and day between the two games.
So yes – Danny Care was fantastic. But that was in part because of the hard work done by the team (including Youngs) for 70 minutes. That hard work ground Australia into the dirt, exhausted them, and created the space in the final 10 for Care to exploit with such verve. And moving forward this is the best combination for England – Youngs does his thing for three-quarters of the game, then Care comes on to revel in the chaos of the final minutes. There is no player better suited to the role than Care.
England’s chasing of kicks is world class
More on England’s back three below, but just a point to say England’s kick-chase is a joy to watch right now. How many times as England fans over the past few years have we yelled at the TV ‘why is there no one chasing!?’ every time England kicked the ball deep.
No longer – Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and, in particular, Jonny May, raced after each kick through like greyhounds on the track.
Even if they do not secure the ball or put in a monster hit on the opposition, they put Australia under pressure, meaning they were not afforded the time to put in a measured return kick or move the ball into space from which to counter attack.
It is exhausting work, make no doubt, and often goes unrecognised. But for me it was the key difference between the sides; not least because it led directly to Elliot Daly’s opportunistic try.
Watching back, Kurtley Beale ambles toward Ben Youngs’ kick into space. Daly does the opposite – he must be shattered by now given the end-to-end rugby they have just played, but he seems to be going at least twice the speed of Beale. Beale assumed the ball would go dead, Daly didn’t care. Even if it had, he would have been there to stop Beale taking the quick line out and launching another counter attack. As it happened the ball bounced back in and he was there ready to capitalise.
Joseph and Watson did a similar thing for Care’s quick kick through that led to Joseph’s try: Joseph screams the call to Care on the outside and both then set and go like sprinters out the blocks – surging past the tired Oz defence.
New look back three shows promise
Bar one cameo-cap by Alex Goode, Mike Brown has been an unwavering mainstay of Eddie Jones side. The rock on which his backline has been built, Brown has fulfilled the role asked of him to the letter: an unflinching last line of defence and to secure the ball and then return with interest, whether with the boot or via one of his feisty runs. However, that hasn’t stopped England fans (myself included) asking for Jones to at least build some strength in depth and trial a more exciting running option in the 15-shirt.
Jones has mostly resisted until now, but a head-injury ruled Brown out of the Australia game so Anthony Watson was given the opportunity to make the most of the increased space afforded to a fullback. Alongside him, Jonny May and Elliot Daly finished of a back-three unit with, on paper, an exciting amount of pace and attacking intent.
So how did it fair? It is fair to say, it was a mixed bag. There were a few fumbles early on, the high ball wasn’t secured with the same ignorance for personal safety that Brown usually adopts, and May, in particular, gave away a couple of penalties.
Still – they worked hard, (as mentioned) they harried Australia on the kicks, and threatened without breaking loose. This meant their superior pace and fitness allowed them to make hay in the last part of the game. They earned the right to cut loose.
There is still the nagging feeling the backline lacks a little bulk, but I love the amount of pace.
I expect Brown to remain first choice through to the World Cup – bar a dip in form – but at least we know there are options now. If nothing else, the attacking ability of such a back three if they are brought together for the final 20 minutes of a game is very exciting.
Scotland have more cause for complaint
I am sure I will get accusations of English-bias given that England certainly got the rub of the green on Saturday, but for me the referee got all the calls correct – yes some decisions were pernickety, Michael Hooper and Marika Koroibete’s disallowed tries in particular, but that doesn’t mean they were wrong, just that often the offences are missed by referees or their assistants.
Actually, it was another refreshing feeling for an England fan – how many times have we seen our tries ruled out for stupid infringements or simple errors. This time, England were clinical. They took the opportunities when they arose and buried them.
If anyone were to feel aggrieved at a refereeing call it should be Scotland. Kieran Read did his best impression of Maradona and reached a phantom hand up to knock the ball out of Jonny Gray’s hands as he went for the line. Read was on the floor and it was a deliberate slap forward – he should have been yellow carded. Such a moment may not have meant Scotland won the game in the end, but given just how close the result was, the odds may have tipped in their favour. Still, a reluctant hat-tip to Read – he gambled big, but he beat the house.
You can watch it here:
By Henry Ker