I, like many other Australians, woke up on Sunday morning with a lingering sense of annoyance at how events played out at Twickenham at the weekend.
This feeling has not been helped any by the inevitable crowing of England fans, who have taken the 30-6 scoreline as evidence that it was a masterpiece of attacking rugby that condemned Australia to the gallows.
I hate to be the aggressor in this situation, but I’ve got some news for you, England fans: it wasn’t. Were it not for a number of fortuitous decisions and narrow escapes, you could well have left that game with a marginal victory or even a loss.
I’m just going to quickly skim through the major talking points from Twickenham and explain to those unwilling to see it how exactly England got lucky.
Let me preface all of this by stating that I do not contest that England just about deserved to win the game. Their attacking rugby in the last ten minutes or so when the Australian spirit had been broken was perfectly executed. I am merely attempting to stem the flow of uninformed gloating by pointing out that the game should never have come to a situation where one team ran away with it. I thought it was a brilliantly contested game on both sides, and I purely wish to do it justice.
Let’s start with the disallowed try to Michael Hooper in the first half. The ball comes wide to Tevita Kuridrani, with Marika Koroibete lurking outside him. At that point Hooper is clearly in front of Kuridrani, no arguing with that one.
When Kuridrani kicks ahead, Hooper is still in front, Koroibete is not. That’s the crucial point because the ball is contested in the first instance by Koroibete, the onside player, after both he and the kicker have overtaken Hooper, thus rendering him onside and free to go on to collect the ball and ground it. That takes Australia out to a seven-point lead midway through the first half, for starters.
Then we come to the yellow cards. Out of the two, Kurtley Beale’s was much the more deserved. Even though I have heard people say that it could be worthy of a penalty only since there were covering defenders who could have caught Jonny May, the fact is that there was no real chance of him recovering the ball and it still blocks a try-scoring opportunity. Sorry, Kurtley, but see you later.
The Hooper card was the one I want to contest. Not because it was necessarily undeserved in itself but because it highlights another inconsistency in refereeing in world rugby. Hooper was given the card for repeated infringements, most of which were for offside. I have seen occasions where teams have been caught offside three or four times on their own goal line and not even been given the yellow card warning. I do not recall there even being a warning for the Australians prior to Hooper’s yellow, and I feel like that puts it in the ‘harsh’ category.
Let’s move onto the second half, and the Elliot Daly try. I’m not going to argue it wasn’t a try – the video official took long enough to work out that it was. However, in the previous phase of play, Samu Kerevi had broken through the English line and bar some slippery hands from Kuridrani, Australia would have found themselves a score up.
Instead the loose ball was collected, England counter-attacked and, with the help of a brain-fade from Beale when he tried to let the ball bounce out and misjudged Daly’s pace, scored to put themselves 13-3 up. Small margins, and it could so easily have been very different.
Finally, we come to the disallowed try to Marika Koroibete, which was another marginal call to me. On first glance it looks as though the Stephen Moore obstruction is genuine, but you place it in the reality of the situation, Chris Robshaw has as good a chance as he would have without Moore there to make the tackle on Koroibete. Moore is knocked aside before Koroibete makes any contact with Robshaw, and he has a chance to make the tackle anyway.
I am probably going to come down on the side that the disallowing of the try was the right decision, but it’s another marginal decision that could have put Australia back in the game.
One final bit of business before I move on – just because he got a try, no-one should walk away with the idea that Jonny May is an international-standard winger good enough for a first-choice England side. He isn’t. He did markedly little in the game otherwise, and he got the bounce of his dreams for that try. Any other bounce, he’s getting nowhere near it.
To finish this rant on a more positive note, I want to turn my attention to a theme of the other three games in the home nations this weekend, and that is that the supposedly second-tier teams are starting to give much-fancied opposition a real run for their money.
Georgia gave another convincing argument for consideration for more regular international competition by forcing Wales to defend within an inch of their lives for the win while showing remarkable defensive application and discipline themselves. Fiji’s own brand of ad hoc rugby had them within three points of the rapidly-rising Irish in Dublin, and Scotland came so close to a remarkable upset when only a fantastic piece of defence from the seemingly flawless Beauden Barrett stopped Stuart Hogg wrapping up a brilliant win over New Zealand.
All four games this weekend have only reinforced to me that at all levels of the world rankings the gaps between these teams are closing rapidly, and if it continues, we could be in for one hell of a show in Japan in two years time.