The Wallabies’ win against England made a mockery of former World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward’s ridiculous public comments before the match that the Wallabies were “not the brightest team” and that “they give away penalties and pick up yellow cards when they are stretched”.
Well Clive, look what happened. The Wallabies outmuscled England in the scrum and across the park. England’s playmaker and goal-kicker Owen Farrell got a yellow card with 10 minutes to go. Australia scored three tries to one.
England were outsmarted, outclassed and outplayed. The Wallabies were wonderful. It is not an easy thing to decimate England’s scrum and now the world knows that the perceived Wallabies’ weakness is no more.
While I have no sympathy for Woodward as he has put himself out there with his comments, the loss is no doubt devastating for current coach Stuart Lancaster and his 2015 Rugby World Cup squad. English fans can be brutal, as evidenced by the abuse England rugby captain Chris Robshaw’s girlfriend Camilla Kerslake had to put up with when England narrowly lost to Wales.
The feeling of devastation when one loses a Test match is difficult to describe. The feeling of loss and emptiness and the permanence of it all is difficult to deal with.
For England this is magnified by the fact that there is no second chance for them.
Such is life and competition. There are always winners and losers, and while people may say it is only a game, for the players on the losing team, it is far more than that. Years of dedication and commitment to a cause are shattered in an instant and last forever more.
However, as author James Hollis said, “Life brings us two gifts: a moment in time and the consciousness of its brevity”.
For both England and Australia this game was a pivotal moment in time, and indeed as with all such matches, it was marked by the consciousness of its brevity.
Sadly for the English lads, the disappointment will not be brief. It is difficult not to feel sympathy for them. However, it was not a lack of effort on their part that was the cause of their defeat. And for that they can hold their head up.
I have little doubt that over the next four years we will see England a far more formidable force as they analyse what went wrong and more importantly why.
While this campaign is far from over, coach Michael Cheika and his support staff have done a great job with all facets of the game.
For all of Woodward’s nonsense, Cheika hit the nail on the head when he spoke of the need for “emotional intelligence”. It is the maturity of this Wallabies side that is particularly impressive. They are urgent yet calm and focussed.
There has been complete buy-in from everyone in the Wallabies camp. Post-match interviews of Wallabies squad members clearly reveal the level of regard each and every one of them have for the privileged position of representing their country.
The replacements or ‘finishers’ who came on all stood up to the plate and it was evident that the Wallabies are quietly confident of their abilities, irrespective of who is on the park. There has been an enormous amount of work done in preparing this squad, and this was plainly evident as Australia cut a swathe through a desperate England outfit.
I must admit that when Stephen Moore was replaced I had my heart in my mouth as I watched Tatafu Polota-Nau step up for his first lineout throw. To his credit the accuracy of his throwing was on the money. He has obviously done a lot of work. I hope he continues to prove my concerns are unfounded.
The intensity of the Wallabies was superb. If they had taken their foot of England’s throat for even fraction of the game, the result could easily have been different.
Bernard Foley has shown that he has what it takes in all facets of the game and the consistency of his goal-kicking was precisely what Australia needed.
However, this was a total team effort. The character of the team is shining through and the belief in one another will stand them in good stead as they surge forward into the quarter-finals.
Now onto Wales.
This game has particular significance as it will determine who faces South Africa and who faces Scotland or Japan in the quarter-finals.
Australia’s chances of progressing through to the semi-finals increase exponentially if they come into the quarter-finals on top of Pool A. This will see them play the runners-up in Pool B, most likely Scotland or Japan, who will be far easier opponents than Pool B leaders South Africa, still smarting not just from their recent defeat by Japan, but their last minute defeat by the Wallabies earlier in the year.
The Wallabies have lost Michael Hooper for this match due to his suspension but have an ample replacement in Sean McMahon. Coach Cheika also has the option of moving David Pocock to No.7 and bringing in Ben McCalman at No.8.
It is arguable that the Wallabies have been strengthened to an extent by the injuries to No.8 Wycliff Palu and giant lock Will Skelton. Cheika’s decision to opt for a third hooker in James Hanson is a wise one, and the inclusion of Sam Carter brings a raw edge and work rate capacity to the Wallabies, which may come in handy, particularly if the Wallabies face the All Blacks at some point.
Wales will be on fire. They have an astute coach in Warren Gatland and a squad that will just keep coming. However, while they will break their 10-game losing streak against the Wallabies at some point in time, I do not expect it to be in this year’s Rugby World Cup, provided the Wallabies bring the same game they brought against England.