Luck deserts the Wallabies at Twickenham but there's no doubting England's superiority as they rack up a 37-18 win to complete a successful November series
Australia cry foul as England end autumn campaign on a high
Has there ever been a month like it? For the third time in four weeks at Twickenham, discussion raged about a single decision. Unlike the late calls in the nail-biting Tests against South Africa and New Zealand, the latest controversy came halfway through a match that England ended up winning convincingly.
England’s 37-18 win against Australia was their sixth successive success in the fixture and, but for Israel Folau’s second try after the clock had turned red, would have matched the record 24-point margin achieved by Eddie Jones’s men last year.
Michael Cheika was apoplectic on that occasion, as three TMO decisions went against his side, and he showed considerable restraint this time as England benefited from what can only be called a shocking call.
Australia were trailing 13-10 just before half-time when Izack Rodda broke through near the line and was stopped by a clear shoulder barge by Owen Farrell.
The days of the legal shoulder-charge tackle, as exemplified by JPR Williams’s legendary challenge on France wing Jean-Francois Gourdon in 1976, died out long ago. However, referee Jaco Peyper decided that Rodda had been equally to blame for the juddering collision that stopped Rodda in his tracks.
Australia kicked a penalty awarded for offside to go in all-square, but they should have been awarded a penalty try and, given the near certainty that Rodda would have scored had Farrell made a lower and legal tackle, probably seen England’s co-captain dispatched to the sin-bin for good measure.
Has that occurred, Farrell would not have been on the pitch early in the second half when he set up Elliot Daly with an offload for the try that restored England’s advantage.
To his credit, in the post-match press conference Cheika made it clear that the right team won the match, saying: “England were the better team. They had us under pressure for many moments of the game. So I don’t want it (the Rodda decision) to be seen like a carry-on.
“But the justification that Rodda tried to take him (Farrell) on with his shoulder is ludicrous. That’s how you carry the ball.
“I went to the referees’ meeting they had here in the first week before the Wales game and they referred back to the Owen Farrell tackle against South Africa. And the referees said that should have been a penalty, in front of all the coaches. Now if that’s a penalty, this is three penalties.”
Wallaby skipper Michael Hooper was similarly dismayed. “I was surprised it was turned around against us. As a ball-carrier you carry with your shoulder. I was surprised that there was no look at it (on the big screen).”
Cheika also took issue with the Dane Haylett-Petty try on 26 minutes that was disallowed – somewhat belatedly – for a forward pass. The wing’s long pass to Samu Kerevi in the build-up appeared to be clearly forward but Peyper, after consulting with his assistant Glen Jackson, decided to award the score.
“The guy (Matt To’omua) was about to go back and kick the goal (conversion),” said Cheika, “and it was shown on the screen five times in a row until someone took notice. And then the TMO (Marius Jonker) decided he was going to check it and within 30 seconds they decided it was a no try. It’s a 25-metre pass and it goes backwards out of his hands.
“Move forward to the one on 40 minutes, there’s no look whatsoever. I was asking why there was no look and the fourth official told our manager time was up. That is not an excuse as to why he can’t look at the video replay.”
There was a time when referees went far too readily to their TMO, with funnily enough the England-Fiji game at RWC 2015 – when Peyper was the referee – one of the most extreme cases; the TMO stoppages that day amounted to more than ten minutes.
A directive to rein it back in was required but are referees now failing to call on the video assistance when it’s crying out to be used?
Earlier this season, Karl Dickson twice awarded tries in the Newcastle-Wasps game that were then chalked off after TMO Sean Davey intervened. Dickson also came close to playing on instead of checking the footage that showed Josh Bassett had scored a try.
Lest we should be accused of being too personal here, we should point out that Dickson and Peyper are both fine referees. They sometimes make mistakes like the rest of us do.
More than likely, Dickson was taking a desire not to ‘go upstairs’ too often too close to heart, but the balance has arguably swung too far the other way. Replays of marginal incidents need to be looked at – the technology is there for that reason.
The incidents deflected from a strong England showing, particularly in the scrum. Australia’s problems started in the opening minute when Will Genia, on his 100th Test appearance, fumbled the ball slightly as he fetched it from a ruck and Ben Youngs charged down Haylett-Petty’s attempted clearance. England won a scrum, shoved the visitors back with ominous ease, and Jonny May was put in at the corner for his 18th try in 40 Tests.
England seemed comfortable at 13-3 shortly before half-time but Folau’s try from a brilliant unders line gave them a wake-up. Daly’s try, followed by a second in two games for Joe Cokanasiga after Haylett-Petty dropped off a tackle, re-established England’s dominance and when Scott Sio collapsed a scrum, Farrell’s penalty took England three scores clear.
There was time for Manu Tuilagi to raise a cheer when appearing for his first Test action in 32 months and for Farrell to cross before Folau’s second try rounded off an eventful series.
Eddie Jones was delighted by what he saw as a traditional English performance – scrum, lineout maul, defence – and claimed not to even notice the ball-carrying of tighthead Kyle Sinckler that helped earn him the Man of the Match award. For the record, the Harlequins prop made 12 carries (with six gain-line successes), five tackles and one turnover.
The Wallabies missed the injured David Pocock as much as they feared at the breakdown, conceding seven turnovers in the first half alone.
“I trust my instincts and play what I see,” said Sinckler, who quelled the murmurings that his set-piece work is not quite up to Test standard. He joined Farrell, Maro Itoje and Mark Wilson on the shortlist for England’s Player of the Quilter Series and for what’s it worth, Rugby World would give it to Itoje without a second’s hesitation.
The Saracens lock continues to give away some silly penalties but his abrasive physicality and disruptiveness makes him a huge menace to opponents. If he can find similar form in Japan next year, England will be well on their way to having a very good competition.
“Maro continues to grow; he’s going to be the best lock in the world,” said Jones, who was at pains to douse any suggestion that victory over his home country, and the nation that sacked him 13 years ago, had extra meaning for him.
“It’s not about playing against Australia, mate. It’s about us getting better as a team,” he said. “I’m coaching England. I love English players, love them. It wouldn’t matter if it was Argentina or Afghanistan today, all we want to do is play good rugby. I have no interest in just beating Australia.”
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