England Eclipsed by Elsom Industry; Wilkinson Comeback Ruined by Inspiring Wallaby Skipper

Article excerpt

Byline: Ian Stafford AT TWICKENHAM

England 9 Australia 18

IT WAS almost as if he had never been away, save for one important factor. Jonny kicked, Jonny drop-kicked, Jonny made try-saving tackles and yes, Jonny was at times an extra flanker, but not even the game's greatest points scorer could paper over the cracks left by an England side decimated by injuries.

We thought this England team could prosper even with their notable absentees because so many had shown form in the domestic season, but we were wrong. This ended up being as comprehensive a nine-point win as is possible and Australia, a side also bereft of key men and suffering a dreadful losing run, collected the Cook Cup.

It was fitting that it was Rocky Elsom, the new Wallaby captain, who first got his hands on the trophy because the man was immense, as indeed he was for Leinster last season on their way to Heineken Cup success, while England had nobody to punch similar holes up front. The longer this test match dragged on, the more dominant the visitors became until it resembled a training ground game between attackers and defenders.

The only real surprise by the end was how little the margin of victory was for the team that finished a poor last in this year's Tri-Nations. This was partly down to some stout defence from England, whose effort and character cannot be criticised, but whose strength in depth can be questioned.

But Australia, who play Ireland in Dublin next Sunday, blew chance after chance, a display fitting for a side who came into this game having won just once in their last seven internationals and were low in confidence.

It left Martin Johnson presiding over an England team who have won just five out of 12 under his command in a year, and with such an injury list to contend with, next Saturday's Test against Argentina, let alone the All Blacks in a fortnight's time, will be a severe examination.

'It feels like the end of the world when you lose your first game of the season,' admitted the man who lifted the World Cup six years ago. 'Australia came into this battlehardened after the Tri-Nations and playing against New Zealand last week, and it showed. They were slicker than us and it didn't help that we conceded two soft tries. …