England 26-17 Australia
Wallabies wilt under England power
Tom Hamilton at Twickenham
November 29, 2014
England's Ben Morgan was heroic © Getty Images

Sometimes it comes down to a simple cocktail of power and strength. At the full-time whistle as England revelled in their 26-17 win, a clearly relieved Stuart Lancaster sought Graham Rowntree for a congratulatory hug. While the backs are still finding their feet and the centre conundrum will roll into the Six Nations, the forwards are in fine fettle.

It was a brutal Test match at times and two minutes from the end, there were strewn English bodies on the floor. Mike Brown was close to the touchline, exhausted, while George Kruis was prone a matter of metres away. On the far side of the field Brad Barritt was bloodied and hurting.

This was a win built on dominance in the forwards. Courtney Lawes put in a monumental performance in the second-rows while Ben Morgan has become an unlikely try-scoring hero with his pair of scores but they should not divert attention away from his overall performance of astute, bulldozing effectiveness from No.8.

If ever there as a must-win game for England, this was it. Talk of World Cup psychology and monumental is constantly scotched by those in the firing line, but it has been a November where talk of England's fragile mindset has dominated the agenda but their front-five put in their best performance of the autumn series.

Their front-row had the Wallabies' on toast. Australia will have no chance of winning the World Cup unless this is rectified, they were dominated in virtually every scrum and it gave England a key foothold in an error-strewn match. Rowntree was understandably delighted: "Today was the icing on the cake."

When asked post-match what Lancaster would like to add to the mix ahead of the Six Nations, the answer was simple and succinct: "Manu"

It was Lawes and Morgan who stood shoulders above their fellow forwards. Lawes put in two try-saving tackles on Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau and proved to be devilish in the lineout while making 12 tackles. Chris Robshaw was left clutching at thin air in the build-up to Bernard Foley's score but he was a nuisance at the breakdown with Australia conceding 17 turnovers. And then there was the No.8 with Morgan superb in the loose and controlling the ball at the back of their dominant scrum.

Australian errors gifted England field position for both tries and at times the Wallabies were sloppy with offloads finding the touchline instead of outstretched arms. The scrum splintered under the pressure of England and you are always fighting a losing battle with such a poor platform to build from.

"We need to change some things," was Michael Cheika's assessment. "Maybe Change our technique and strategy. Maybe we need to do more wheeling, as that seems to be accepted. Perhaps we are being too honest in the scrum. "

It is a shame because the talent in their backs is unquestionable. Nick Phipps' delivery from the base of the scrum is efficient and accurate in equal measure and while Israel Folau's radar was off at times, he is a world-class presence. But it was the two centres who stole the show for Australia. Adam Ashley-Cooper was magnificent at outside centre while Matt Toomua is as natural a footballer in the midfield as you will find.

They have positives to cling to but three losses on the bounce paints a picture of a team in transition and Cheika is fully aware of the work he has to do with the World Cup a year out.

England are still far from perfect. Though Barritt was heroic in defence, the centre partnership is still an area of concern. When asked post-match what Lancaster would like to add to the mix ahead of the Six Nations, the answer was simple and succinct: "Manu". Tuilagi is expected to be back in the early throws of the New Year while they will be keeping a close eye on Luther Burrell.

Similarly, Lancaster spoke of the absent British & Irish Lions in the pack but he singled out those emerging youngsters in the tight-five George Kruis and Kieran Brookes as stars of their November series so there are no guarantees the absent Lions can walk back into this side. Rowntree described that as a "a headache, but a nice headache to have".

Australia will now go away and lick their wounds and wait to see what Cheika will bring to the role with their next action in July. For England, the attention now shifts to the Six Nations. They will go into it knowing the expectation is for yet more progress to be shown and consistency in match-winning game management. Lancaster will rest a little easier tonight but he knows this match will mean little if England do not use it as a building block to mount a World Cup challenge on.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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