UNEXPECTED victories against a big rival taste all the sweeter and that was definitely the case here in Sydney when England beat Australia.
Martin Johnson’s men were written off by almost everyone outside the camp before the match, most people predicting a rout, so it makes the win all the more remarkable against a side who had beaten them easily seven days earlier.
So what was the difference? How did England turn around the dismal Six Nations performances?
*Belief. Having spoken to Lewis Moody after the match and again the morning after the game it is clear the side had unshakeable belief in their abilities. This is where the coaches must get the praise. Talking to the players, off the record, in the 48 hours before the game they all seemed to be saying ‘we can win’. The coaches set the standards and set the atmosphere and it paid off.
* Lewis Moody – The players love the man they call Mad Dog. Like Johnson he goes where others fear to tread and the boys love him for it. No Churchillian speeches from the Leicester man just ‘follow me’ – the perfect captain. Against Australia he was knocked out and staggered around for more than a minute with Toby Flood screaming at him: ‘Get up, get up!’ Again for the players to see him go through his Bambi on Ice moment and emerge triumphant is inspirational. He sets a great example.
* Team Spirit – Step forward Dan Cole. The bloke couldn’t see out of his left eye for almost all the match, but did he go off apart from getting the blood flow stemmed? Of course he didn’t. Every time he came back it gave the side a lift and there was a real, if Cole can do it with one eye then so can we attitude.
* Shutting down Quade Cooper. Moody, Tindall (defence leader) and Mike Ford (defence coach) identified the time and space Cooper got in the Super 14 and the week before in Perth as a key part of the Wallabies strategy. They devised a game plan to allow Moody to go after Cooper whenever he could, often doing so while ignoring other responsibilities he may have had. It worked a treat because when Cooper’s time on the ball is cut down the Wallabies back line is far less potent.
* Toby Flood – Jonny Wilkinson’s penalty got all the headlines but if your 10 is not performing you have no chance. I believe that Flood had his best game in an England shirt, giving England get-outs with his kicking game and challenging the run with his running game.
* A mixture of young and old. The average age of the side that beat Australia is 27 – perfect for next year’s World Cup! The emergence on this tour of young players like Ben Youngs and Courtney Lawes gives England the perfect blend. Who would envy Johnson’s job of bringing the 44-man squad, with others like Sheridan and Hartley to come back, down to 32 for the Autumn internationals.
* Pace in the backline. Australia may have the best backs in the world but England proved they have the zip and the pace to score against anyone. Ben Youngs’ try was sensational and the same for Chris Ashton.
* Sealing the deal. This is where the experience of guys like Shaw and Easter came to the fore. Moody didn’t have to tell them to shut the game down in the final few minutes, they knew exactly how to do it through instinct.
But did you watch the game? What are your thoughts? Is this the first of many big wins for this England team?