England delivered, now they
FFarrell got away with it and then had a stormer but refs notice these things and will be on his case
or many – possibly most – the jury was on whether England had enjoyed a good Autumn until as late as the second half yesterday. And then, in one fell swoop, they answered most of the questions and worries with an exhilarating half of high tempo rugby that was much too good for the Aussies
If England could somehow, and with some regularity, mesh their first half against New Zealand and yesterday’s second half they will definitely win the World Cup and somehow achieving that unstoppable 80-minute game is Eddie Jones’ challenge going into 2019.
It all started to fall into place after the break yesterday. Elliot Daly hasn’t been an out-and-out success at full-back, mainly because he needs to learn and adapt to new defensive duties, but there is no question that 15 is the position in which he can cause most damage.
It offers more space and just a fraction of a second more time for him to look up and pick his way through the traffic with his dancing feet and lightning pace. All of this was evident during his brilliant try.
And then ‘Smokin Joe’ came out of his corner throwing big punches looking to finish the fight early. Joe Cokanasiga has always been a talent, that’s why Eddie Jones has taken him on the last two summer tours and why an arrangement was made with London Irish that he could keep playing Premiership rugby with Bath.
Against Japan he looked born for Test rugby and he had been doing everything efficiently and well yesterday until he let the handbrake off. Cokanasiga is not in the team to be efficient, he is there for his raw
power and pace and predatory try scoring instincts.
He made his try look deceptively easy and then came that remarkable run which should have resulted in the try of the autumn but brought the house down nonetheless. Being hyper critical he should have handed on to Henry Slade at the death but Michael Hooper’s try-saving tackle was off the Richter scale.
Add to all this the ever-dangerous Jonny May, the excellent Kyle Sinckler, the prodigiously hard working Mark Wilson and the encouraging sign of Manu Tuilagi returning to Test rugby – and looking pretty sharp in unison with Ben Te’o – and this was a performance to sway even the most sceptical jury.
England started by somehow winning a game they should have lost against South Africa. The Boks should have put England away before half-time and then made a mess of things after the break. The try-saving tackle by Owen Farrell garnered all the headlines and England were much improved after the break but in all honesty the Boks threw that one away.
But then England lost a game they clearly should have won. They outplayed New Zealand for much of the first half, built a 15-0 lead and then clutched defeat from the jaws of victory. There were mitigating circumstances, though.
When the dust had settled there is no question that they were done in cold blood by the TMO over the Sam Underhill try that never was. The more you look at it the more it becomes evident that the ABs had made a horlicks of things at the back of the ruck and that the ball was live at which point there was no offside line and TJ Perenara didn’t have the protection of delaying the moment he lifted the ball.
And then what to make of the Japan match? A truly dismal opening 40 minutes by England followed by a decent, efficient second half which coincided with the arrival of Farrell off the bench.
It was a bewildering series of performances on which to judge England and undoubtedly upped the ante yesterday. The pressure was on and they delivered.
The pressure now is to keep on delivering. England have the game, they have the template now they must discover how to replicate such quality against all-comers on foreign soil or at least neutral ground.
A brutal start to the Six Nations will quickly test this. Ireland away first up is as tough as it comes in world rugby and the prospect of that clash alone will sustain us through the first part of the winter.
But then comes an improved France at home and the Welsh in Cardiff. Come through those three games in credit and you can quietly start looking at the World Cup odds and making a modest investment.
There are areas still work on, of course there are, and one surely must be Owen Farrell’s tackling technique. He was legal, just, in my opinion during that incident at the end of the Boks game but was totally illegal just before half-time yesterday when Australia should have been awarded a penalty try and he should have spent ten minutes in the bin.
Farrell got away with it and subsequently had a storming game but refs notice these things and after their end-of-term debrief rest assured they will be on his case in the Six Nations and throughout next year. England beware.
Excellent: Kyle Sinckler