category: rugby news

As good as it gets for Poms

Mark Keohane7/10/07

Keo, in the Argus, writes the Poms win against Australia was their final.

You need a scrum to win the World Cup. Australia hasn’t had one for years and in front of 60 000 here at the most fantastic of stadiums the Australian pack was humiliated.

England won by two, but when you consider Jonny Wilkinson missed three penalties and three drop goals, there should never have been just a kick separating the two teams.

England had the pack and Australia the potency in the backs. But with Australia’s numbers one to eight getting pulverized in the set piece and in the tackle the backs could never influence this result.

Australia, in the Pool Stages, had played no team of significance. Their win against Wales was given perspective when Fiji bundled Wales out of the competition. And on Saturday the Springboks’ 36-0 trouncing of England earlier in the tournament also put into perspective just how well the Boks played in Paris that night.

Australia’s pack had not been tested in France and despite Wallabies coach John Connolly insistence that his tight five had improved, they were as diabolical as they’ve been since Matt Dunning was carried off on a stretcher at Twickenham a few years back.

The Australian scrum disintegrated again, with Dunning ineffective and tighthead prop Guy Shepherdson beaten to a pulp by his opposite Andy Sheridan, who was named man of the match.

The only surprise was that Australia won the first two penalties at the scrum, despite Dunning collapsing them. Once referee Alain Rolland had woken up to the cunning of the Australians they never won another penalty and in fact never won a decent ball from a scrum feed.

The result continues the Springboks incredible run at this World Cup because it eliminates the Australian threat – a team that despite its deficiencies at scrum time have always troubled the Boks.

Defensively, both teams were good with just 17 tackles missed in the match, but England have no attack and that made Australia’s defensive task a simple task.

England were ambitious in how they wanted to play, but they lacked confidence and conviction in using the width of the pitch. Instead they relied on scrumhalf Andy Gomarsall’s kicking game from the base and on the 10 and 12 kicking options provided by Wilkinson and Mike Catt.

This was England’s final. They were courageous and the bulldog spirit, absent against the Boks, growled. Admittedly it was allowed to because the Australian pack was more poodle than pitbull.

England won’t advance beyond the semi-final because they don’t have the all-round game to achieve a result that will require more science and as much mongrel as they took to the Velodrome.

Their victory against Australia was inspired because it was true backs-to-the-wall stuff, but when you looked at the rugby they played they were awful. They managed just one linebreak in 80 minutes and their midfield and outside backs did not have the bulk, pace of skill to trouble Australia.

On the odd occasion Australia’s backs were worked into the game through decent phase play they cut England’s defence to shreds, with the simple use of width in their passing.

There will be the usual English media emotional outpouring and England’s World Cup prospects will be talked up, despite the obvious limitation of this team. The reports will be of the bravery of this side and of the magnificence of the occasion. The prose will be purple, the writing will be inspirational but the adjectives are unlikely to reference anything about English skill. Quite simply they don’t have the skills to win this World Cup.

Saturday’s win was not a case of England being good, but of Australia being a disgrace in the scrum and of their forwards being battered at the breakdown. Australia was pitiful and England were strong enough to win the slugfest.

South Africa in Paris showed how poor England are and England in turn showed Australia to be a pretender and never a genuine World Cup contender. Often Australia’s intelligence in approach and ability to manipulate the referee and the situation at scrum time has won them matches. Not so at the Velodrome, even if the referee’s interpretations at the opening quarter suggested the Aussies may actually get away with it again.

Thankfully they didn’t because rugby union is a game played with a scrum and for Australia to have triumphed by somehow avoiding a scrum in 80 minutes would have been a catastrophe.

Scrum sanity triumphed in Marseilles and so did the team with the better pack.

In the next two weeks it will take more than just a better pack to win because the tournament survivors all have packs as good as England, if not better.

England must enjoy the win because they won’t get another one in France this month. Australia must accept the humiliation because they’ve side-stepped too often the reality that this is union and not rugby league. This game is played with 15 and not 13 men. This is a game played with props like Sheridan and not imposters like Dunning.

MARK KEOHANE | | Sunday, 7 October 2007 | Comment on this article

Mark Keohane

Don’t be a fool Jake … go on Sunday 17/10/07
As good as it gets for Poms 7/10/07
Go green, say Boks 18/9/07
Habana delights White 10/9/07
Boks will not bow to pressure 5/9/07
Pumpkin time for Aus duo 14/8/07
Pommy Bashing 9/8/07

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