Finishing with a flourish
Farrell leads England to emphatic win but Wallabies furious over another no-arms tackle Cheika angered by Farrell’s ‘body-check’ on Rodda Jones tips Cokanasiga for great things with England
Australia head coach Michael Cheika last night blasted the protocols used by officials after Owen Farrell escaped sanction for a body-check tackle on Izack Rodda just before half-time as England rounded off their autumn series with a 37-18 win at Twickenham.
Many commentators felt Farrell was fortunate not to be shown the yellow card and a penalty try awarded, a score that would have sent the Wallabies into the interval with a fourpoint advantage.
Referee Jaco Peyper took no action and did not refer the matter to the Television Match Official. “We had three disallowed tries and not one referral,” said Cheika, who has presided over the worst Wallaby showing in a calendar year for decades.
“Maybe we’ve got to move Australia up to the northern hemisphere. We went to the referee meeting after the [England v] South Africa game and they told us that Owen Farrell’s tackle [on Andre Esterhuizen] should have categorically been a penalty. So if that’s a penalty, this one today was three penalties. It’s ludicrous.”
Australia captain Michael Hooper was also taken aback by Peyper’s refusal to use the technology. “I was surprised it was turned around against us,” said Hopper of Peyper’s explanation that it had been shoulder-onshoulder in the moment of contact.
It was England’s sixth win in a row over the Wallabies, a record. Eddie Jones hailed the character of his side as they claimed their third win of the November series.
There was praise for 21-year-old Bath wing Joe Cokanasiga, who only made his debut against Japan and scored for the second week running.
“Joe is just starting,” said Jones. “He’s still got his training pants on. Wait until he gets proper pants. He’ll be able to play a bit. He’ll definitely get them. He’s going shopping now.”
Jones added: “Our performance was based on the traditions of English rugby: strong scrum, our line-out ball started to get going in the second half, a good defence. It’s not about playing against Australia. It’s about us.
“I love coaching England and love English players. It wouldn’t matter if we were playing Argentina or Afghanistan, all we want to do is play good rugby. I’ve got no interest in just beating Australia. It has been a very positive autumn.”
England fans found joy on a sodden Twickenham afternoon as Eddie Jones’ team headed towards the sunny uplands of a World Cup year with yet another victory over Australia to fortify their spirits.
It may not have been wholly authoritative but it was significant, as England rounded off their autumn account with their third win in four matches, their record sixth in succession over their once fearsome foe. Mind you, this victory was against one of the poorest Wallabies outfits in living memory, a pale imitation of those in gold who have struck terror into English hearts down the years, shredding them here as recently as the 2015 World Cup.
How that sporting wheel has turned. Australia were loose and limpid, flaring into action only occasionally. When the merit of a win of such magnitude on the scoreboard is being quibbled over, a record-equalling margin until Israel Folau’s last-second try, a team are in a good place. Wales, remember, prevailed by only three points in Cardiff.
England can rest easy, despite the passing fuss over Owen Farrell’s tackling technique. The fly-half was fortunate to get away with a full-body collision on lock Izack Rodda on the stroke of half-time, contact that prevented a certain score.
Given the current climate, it could have been a yellow card and a penalty try. Instead the only penalty given was for offside.
England finished strongly and they will take that feeling into all that lies ahead, beginning with a tough assignment in Dublin on the first weekend in February. Ireland will not be so obliging. That will be a proper contest, and England will have to be more punishing in their forward play and far slicker as well as trickier in their attack.
Yet it is a decent ledger of account for England, banishing the blues of mid-year. England took time to find their range, being jerky and ad hoc in attack, but there was always a sense that if they could find some composure and put phases together they would have the measure of an underwhelming Australia side. And so it proved, with rookie wing Joe Cokanasiga showing that he has the X factor that Jones is looking for as he aims for World Cup glory.
The 21-year-old certainly has that, thrilling the crowd with his surging runs and ever-eager eye for a chance. In only his second Test, the Bath wing scored a decisive try in the 56th minute and almost nabbed his second four minutes later. He has power and pace, Lomu-esque in his way, raw, but with fabulous potential. Cokanasiga is a star turn.
There were other notable performances, from prop Kyle Sinckler and No8 Mark Wilson, the Newcastle man deepening England’s resources in the back row, a gritty, unfussy character, digging deep for every yard made on the field, a true English yeoman.
Manu Tuilagi also made a cherished return to action, coming on for Henry Slade in the 69th minute.
Jones had wanted to see an aggressive set-piece, fiery and productive as used to be the English wont against the Wallabies. Sinckler has grown in stature throughout the series, far more solid in the scrum and a presence in the loose, as he showed with one beautifully timed run on to an Owen Farrell pass.
The Harlequin is England’s most improved player of the past year, no longer occasionally suspect in the tight or a liability in terms of his temperament. The 25-year-old is fiery in all the right ways, just what you want from a Test front-rower – hard-nosed and relishing the fray at every turn. The English scrummage did a number on the Aussies, laying the foundation.
The inadequacy in England’s attack appeared to be put to rights within two minutes of the start, as Jonny May touched down for his first try of the autumn series courtesy of a dominant five-metre scrum, Wilson picking up and feeding Ben Youngs, who flipped it on to his Leicester team-mate.
The Wallabies were on their uppers, bedraggled on the scoreboard and a mess off the field, with indiscretions disrupting their preparation for this match.
That sense of unease showed in their play, with balls fired wildly into noman’s-land. But there are classy players in their squad, no one more so than Folau, the full-back illustrating that high-end quality when cutting a perfect angle, side-stepping Farrell and Youngs on his way over the line in the 36th minute. They stuck at their task even though they were erratic and unpolished, but it is a long way back for Australia. It might have helped their
cause, of course, if they had a measure of luck in the officials’ decisions.
The visitors might have gone into the interval with real momentum if a penalty try had been awarded. England only just saved their try-line when Rodda clattered into Farrell as he made to dive over. Australia claimed that Farrell had shoulder-charged the second row, but the penalty given was for offside. Matt Toomua converted it to send the teams into the break level at 13-13.
Farrell’s collision with Rodda could have been a yellow card and a penalty try, and a TMO intervention on Dane Haylett-Petty’s disallowed try was only called at the last minute when the big screen showed a blatant forward pass.
It had not been an accomplished month for Elliot Daly at full-back. The Wasp does not rule the skies as Mike Brown does, but Jones believes he offers more of a threat in attack. At long last, just two minutes into the second half, Daly sparked into life, taking a pop ball from Farrell, before gliding and weaving his way to the try-line, a sumptuous score, Farrell converting.
Then came the Coka show, the wing slipping out of a half-baked tackle by Haylett-Perry and onward to the try line. Moments later it was only a despairing claw-back tackle by Michael Hooper that saved the Wallabies.
When Tuilagi made his long-awaited bow the crowd roared their approval at every touch. Farrell scored the fourth try of the afternoon and the England clan went home happy despite a late, late try by Folau.
Shouldering the burden: England’s talisman Owen Farrell goes over late on to seal victory at Twickenham and make it six wins in a row against Australia
More to come: Joe Cokanasiga scored a try but is just getting started, coach Eddie Jones says
Men who tamed the Wallabies: Jonny May plunges over for his early try (above) and Joe Cokanasiga, who scored England’s third try, rampages through the Australia cover (right)
Flying machine: Israel Folau dives over the Twickenham try line