Power men put Eddie’s engine into overdrive
JOE Cokanasiga, the newest kid on the England block, produced the power play that Eddie Jones has been dreaming of by flooring Australia with 25 minutes remaining of this match.
In the process the 21year-old Fijian-born Bath wing not only brought a feelgood factor flooding back, he also helped to deliver the Autumn uplift that England wanted before their visit to Dublin in the opening round of the Six Nations.
England finished the series on a high note, with three wins from four, after overpowering Australia in the second-half, eventually out-scoring them four tries to two.
The new physicality in the Red Rose backline was encapsulated when Cokanasiga, who scored a debut try against Japan last weekend, trumped it when he turned a relatively unthreatening backline move into a golden opportunity – which he seized with both hands.
With Australia trailing by seven points at 20-13 – following a scorcher of a try from Elliot Daly just after the break when he burst clear from an Owen Farrell offload – the 6ft 4in, 17st 9lb (112kg) wing took over.
It began when Cokanasiga collected a pass from Maro Itoje out on the touchline on the Australian 22, where Cokanasiga was confronted by his opposite number, Dane Haylett-Petty. The Wallaby is another big unit (6ft 3in, almost 16st), but when the dust settled after the collision it was clear he did not know what hit him.
As Haylett-Petty went into the head-on tackle at waist height the power in Cokanasiga’s hips bounced him backwards as if he had been hit by a juggernaut. With his opponent on the deck the way was open, and he jumped at the opportunity by racing away from the cover to score the try that knocked an already splintered Australian door off its hinges.
It was a blow from which the Wallabies, who slumped to their ninth defeat in 13 Tests this year, were unable to recover because it left them trailing 27-13 going into the final quarter after Owen Farrell converted. Nor was the punishment being dished out by Cockanasiga over, because he came within an ace of scoring an even more spectacular try on the hour.
It started when he went up to take an Australian high kick with ease on halfway before leaving Jack Dempsey snatching at thin air and Matt Toomua wrong-footed as he eased through the gears. As Cockanasiga neared the line he smashed through HaylettPetty’s gritty challenge before Michael Hooper’s cover tackle stopped him inches short.
When Brad Shields was held up over the line seconds later and Australia collapsed at the five metre scrum, Farrell kicked a straightforward penalty to make it 30-13.
The Wallabies nearly went further behind when a try-saving tackle by Elliot Daly on Sefa Naivalu resulted in a hack and chase touched down by Jonny May, only for the score to be ruled out by the TMO – correctly – because Henry Slade’s clearing kick had clipped the line.
However, with Manu Tuilagi coming on for his first taste of Test action since 2014 – bar a 17 minute cameo in 2016 – there was not much chance of a respite, as he demonstrated by smashing through Samu Kerevi with his second touch.
As the late pressure cranked up Australia were forced to concede again after an intercept at a Wallaby line-out saw Courtney Lawes set Richard Wigglesworth racing into the 22, and from the next ruck a quick pass by George Ford saw Farrell stroll over unopposed.
Trailing 37-13 the Wallabies could have been forgiven for praying for the final whistle, but instead they showed enough spirit, and stamina, to make the most of some “job-done’ slack English defence for Israel Folau to score from Bernard Foley’s angled grubber.
It was not any consolation, as was made clear afterwards by the bitter complaints over the officiating of the match by Michael Cheika. The Wallaby coach was especially aggrieved by the failure of referee Jaco Peyper to award a penalty try after a brutal collision between Farrell and Izack Rodda when the Australian lock appeared certain to score on the stroke of half-time.
A break by Kerevi saw Rodda in a full cry tilt for the line when he and Farrell met in a shoulder to shoulder smash. It was genuine split-second contact and both players were stopped in their tracks. However, given that Farrell has previous form when it comes to not using his arms to grip when tackling, it would have been no surprise if Peyper had penalised him, with a penalty try the likely outcome because but for the collision Rodda would have scored.
This would have given a Wallaby outfit which recovered from a horror start a four point lead rather than the 13-13 scoreline they had to make do with at half-time after Matt Toomua kicked the levelling penalty for the offside call they received instead.
Whether it would have derailed an England side that eventually had too much firepower for the visitors is another matter. Cheika has serious problems to contend with in his pack, with Ben Moon and Kyle Sinckler knocking them into reverse gear regularly at the scrum. Sinckler also made his presence felt with some barnstorming carries in the loose, and he, Mark Wilson, Sam Underhill, Itoje and Shields were far more urgent than any forward in a gold jersey bar Michael Hooper.
The idea that England might cut loose against the beleaguered Wallabies was reinforced when they went on the offensive from the kick-off, winning a five metre scrum after Youngs charged down a HaylettPetty clearance, forcing Kerevi to ground the ball.
When England shunted the Australian scrum back, Wilson picked up at No.8 long enough to draw in three tacklers before passing to Ben Youngs. The scrum-half had time to pick-out May on the touch-
line and his pass put the wing outside Haylett-Petty to score in the corner.
Farrell’s touchline conversion made it a dream start, but no sooner had the home side made headway than they made life difficult for themselves – a harbinger of what was to come for the rest of the half.
Almost immediately England conceded a penalty which Toomua kicked to make it 7-3, and although a Farrell riposte soon afterwards made it 10-3, the home outfit were stuttering in attack. Despite Shields, Underhill and Itoje winning turn-overs they lacked accuracy and penetration and were fortunate not to concede a try when HaylettPetty was denied by the TMO for a forward pass to Kerevi in the build-up.
Although a further Farrell penalty took England to 13-3 there was no reprieve when Folau scored a brilliant try, cutting against the grain of the defence after taking a pass from Sekope Kepu in full flow.
Folau raced home like the thoroughbred he is, and when Toomua converted, it was Australia who were on a roll with five minutes of the half remaining.
After Farrell brought that to a controversial halt the stage was wide open, and it was Cokanasiga who stole the show with a second-half power-surge the Wallabies could not live with.
Electric start: Jonny May scores after three minutes
Scintillating: Elliot Daly breaks through to score
Dive bomber: Israel Folau scores Australia’s first try