Full-back scores early as England beat Wallabies 32-15 at Twickenham
Watch: Marcus Smith sets up Freddie Steward try
They got them before kick-off with pyrotechnics preceding the teams running out and they didn’t have to wait long for rugby skills to light up the stadium either.
You can watch as Marcus Smith sets up Freddie Steward try at the start of England’s 32-15 victory here…
It all started from a scrum, with Owen Farrell at first receiver and Smith at second, and they took play to the right. Then Courtney Lawes and Sam Underhill combined to make a few extra metres before it was back in the hands of Farrell and then Smith.
The Harlequins No 10 took the ball to the line, fooled the Wallabies by feigning a pass and then popped possession to full-back Steward to scythe through unopposed and cross the line.
Eddie Jones later said of Steward’s try: “That first try we scored was one of the best tries I’ve seen from an England side – the handling, the running lines, hitting holes… It was absolutely outstanding.”
The try typified the regular shuffling and reshuffling of England’s back-line. If a player in white had double digits on their back, they seemed happy to position themselves wherever the situation required.
Sometimes Smith stood at ten, on other occasions it was Farrell. Tuilagi was used to crash the ball up through the middle, while Jonny May switched to the right wing to chase kick-offs. In defence, Henry Slade was often positioned deep along with Steward, England looking to use their long boots to clear any danger. In fact, Slade looked to spend more time in traditional ‘full-back’ positions than the outside-centre spot where he was picked.
Jones later described assigning numbers to positions as rather “archaic”, with players finding themselves in different slots in transitional play, and said he would like rugby to use the basketball system where players pick a number at the start of the season.
Yet for all the variety of the mix-and-match back-line (‘total rugby’ as Jones describes it), the hosts couldn’t score a second try until the final minute despite dominating large chunks of the contest.
In the first half it was hooker Jamie George who got closest to crossing – twice. First he burst through a gap following a delightful Lawes pass and was hauled down ten metres from the line. Tom Wright was subsequently sin-binned for a high hit on the hooker.
Then George lost the ball over the line as he was tackled by Michael Hooper and Nic White after breaking from the back of a mual and the Wallabies were able to clear with a goal-line dropout.
May also got close as the ball was spinned along the back-line but he was tackled into touch after receiving Slade’s pass.
The hosts had played close to all the rugby in that opening period but led just 16-12 at the break, their penalty count all that was keeping Australia in the game.
That lead was cut to a single point soon after the break with another James O’Connor penalty, and it was only kicks from the tee that resulted in any movement on the scoreboard until that 80th minute.
England led 25-15 at that point and the Wallabies launched a final attack from their own 22, but when the ball went loose around halfway, Sam Simmonds was quickest to react and broke down the wing before passing inside to Jamie Blamire in support.
The replacement hooker had enough gas to make it to the line and take his tally to six tries in four Tests – a decent return, particularly for a front-rower!
It was certainly interesting to see the various shapes England’s backs put together and there were glimpses of what could be possible going forward, but it isn’t quite clicking yet. A pass awry here, a turnover there, a kick not finding its target…
In the face of South Africa’s defence next Saturday they might not be given quite so much room to manoeuvre, but what we do know is that Player of the Match Steward will need his aerial skills to be spot-on once more.
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