Cooper's Craft Has Wooden England over a Barrel

By Hewett, Chris | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), June 13, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Cooper's Craft Has Wooden England over a Barrel

Hewett, Chris, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)

Scrum dominates but tourists are taken apart by Wallaby backs. By Chris Hewett in Perth AUSTRALIA 27 ENGLAND 17 Australia Tries: Elsom, Cooper 2 Cons: O'Connor 3 Pens: O'Connor, Cooper England Tries: Penalty 2 Cons: Flood 2 Pen: Flood Half-time: 14-0 Att: 32,228

Another Test match in Wallaby country, another defeat. For much of yesterday's contest at the Subiaco Oval, the crowd found themselves wondering whether there was any beginning to England's talents.

This was not quite fair. Martin Johnson's team can scrummage, and scrummage well - especially against a rival front row so far short of international class that a half-decent Premiership second-string would bend them double at the set-piece. The tourists' supremacy in the darkened recesses earned them two pen-alty tries. But they achieved nothing else. Depressing? Yes, and then some.

The Wallabies were so spellbindingly poor in the tight that for all their brilliance elsewhere - tainted brilliance, given their regular handling errors, but brilliance all the same - they might have finished this most peculiar match in the runners-up position. Fourteen points adrift at the interval, England turned the scrummaging screw so effectively in the second half that they found their way back to 14-10 and 21-17. Australia needed penalties from James O'Connor and Quade Cooper (pictured right), two players infinitely more gifted than any red-rose runner, to seal the deal.

It had seemed very different at the start as the Wallaby backs - shorn of players as good as Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and the sensational young scrum-half Will Genia - ran rings round their opponents. Indeed, there were so many rings encircling England that they looked uncannily like the planet Saturn, the only difference being that they appeared half as bright and moved twice as slowly. Time and again in the opening quarter the Australians burned the tourists in open field only to mess up within metres of the line or founder against some desperate last-ditch tackling.

This spell of profligacy, a period of grace as far as England were concerned, could not last. Eighteen minutes in, Drew Mitchell ran a long kick out of defence and made enough ground to force Ben Foden into a full-back's hit a good 60 metres upfield. The Wallabies moved the ball left and then right, freeing up space for the exceptional O'Connor to link with Mitchell and create the opening try for the captain, Rocky Elsom.

O'Connor, the tormentor when England drew their midweek match with the Australian Barbarians, hit the spot with his touchline conversion, which was more than Toby Flood managed with his first shot 10 minutes later. Worse, far worse, was to come. When Elsom pinched English line-out ball just past the half-hour, Luke Burgess beat the anonymous midfield debutant Shontayne Hape before spinning through 180 degrees and feeding Cooper for a score at the sticks. O'Connor again added the extras.

By this time, England had missed more than 20 tackles - a horror- show figure, although one that was made, by Mark Cueto on Berrick Barnes, earned a citing for being (allegedly) dangerous. By contrast, the Wallabies had fallen off one. The tourists were equally poor in possession, despite leaving the callow Australian scrummagers in shallow graves at virtually every set-piece. Nick Easter's inability to capitalise from No 8 bordered on the embarrassing and there were precious few signs of clear-minded decision-making from Danny Care. Worryinglyfor the Harlequins scrum- half, there was a sharp improvement once the button-bright Ben Youngs was summoned from the bench.

Fortunate not to have been 25 points adrift at the interval, England produced rather more in the second period. The front-row contest grew heated but the nature of it did not change: Dan Cole, the Leicester tight-head, made such a mess of the Wallaby first- timer Ben Daley that the tourists knew they would score if they could just find themselves a foothold in the Wallaby 22.

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