It wasn’t pretty at times but it was successful – Australia has ground out a key 20-14 win over England at Twickenham.
The Wallabies were the dominant team for most of the match and weathered a strong English assault in the second half to claim the Cook Cup.
Australia were under massive pressure after a woeful game against France last weekend. But they started this one well, showing pride in their defence and scrum as well as much more thrust in attack.
England, dressed in a ridiculous purple/maroon kit huffed and puffed but just couldn’t get it going. They were cruelled by numerous handling errors and struggled to build sustained pressure on an impressive Wallaby defence.
This win saved some Aussie pride and Robbie Deans’ job, for now. As every Australian fan knows, the Wallabies rarely string two good performances together, so they must remain focused with Italy and Wales still to play.
But, realistically, with Wales in disarray and Italy a limited team, there should be two wins left in the spring tour.
The Wallabies began the game aggressively, especially at the breakdown, but it was penalty for penalty early on. Australia had more possession but couldn’t get through the English wall, until a poor kick from the Poms changed the game.
Beale spun it to Phipps who found a hole, accelerated and found Cummins on the outside to score. On the replay the ball looked forward but the ref missed it and the Wallabies were ahead.
England kept plugging away and after a quick tap they got the ball to Tuilagi who just grounded it on the line, or was given the benefit of the doubt in a very close call. It gave them a three-point lead at half-time.
In the second half the Wallabies mounted pressure and pulled away with several penalty kicks. With they ball they looked menacing with Beale and Barnes working well together, Tapuai having a strong game and Cummins a blinder. Australia spotted a weakness in the English defence and found a lot of success with several little deft chip kicks in behind.
The momentum swung back England’s way late in the second half but effective tackling from the tired Wallabies and some poor options from England ruined any chance they had. England remain a team in transition with much work to do, especially their forwards.
Until they get a team that can pass fluently and efficiently with good ball skills from 1 to 15 then they will struggle against the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies. All the ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ singing in the world and relentless forward driving won’t break down the best defences in the world. They need more.
This was a gusty display from Australia, exactly what the fan-base demanded.
The standouts were the scrum, which more than held their own, especially Ben Alexander. Barnes was also strong at 15, Taupuai impressive and Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins was very good.
Michael Hooper had a blinder, winning the man-of-the-match, and Nathan Sharpe led from the front. Kurtely Beale was also solid at 10 after a weak display last weekend.
While there were a lot of positives, the Wallabies still need to work on a few issues. Tatafu Polota Nau is strong in contact and a good defender, but his lineout throwing is too poor for international level. A fit Stephen Moore is a must at hooker.
Sharpe is off to enjoy his retirement and depth at lock is needed. The likes of Neville and Pyle must be blooded. The same goes for scrum-half. Nick Phipps improved compared with the French farce but the Wallabies definitely need more adequate back-ups at nine when Will Genia is unavailable.
But for now the Wallabies and their fans can breath just a little easier, at least for a week. Further crisis has been avoided and this under-fire Aussie outfit has restored some pride in the green and gold jumper.
Follow John on Twitter @johnnyddavidson