England 14-20 Australia, Twickenham, November 17
England facing uphill battle
November 17, 2012
England captain Chris Robshaw and his side were shackled by the Wallabies at Twickenham © PA Photos
England's hopes of securing a favourable pool draw for the 2015 Rugby World Cup appear to be remote after a resurgent Australia reclaimed the Cook Cup at Twickenham on Saturday.
Stuart Lancaster's side will have had high hopes of upsetting the world order during their end of year campaign and boosting their International Rugby Board ranking. Officials may have you believe otherwise, but the goal will have been to climb into the top four and with it a top seeding for the draw on December 3 that would also ensure they would not face any of the other sides in that bracket during the pool stages of the sport's next showpiece event.
Victory over the higher-ranked Wallabies would have seen them climb into the top four and offer some breathing room ahead of their clashes with South Africa and New Zealand but now they must claim a sizeable scalp in the next fortnight. If they don't then they face the prospect of a fearsome pool draw at the 2015 tournament that may pit them against the likes of the All Blacks. Such a scenario would also increase the chances of them finishing second in their pool and facing a quarter-final clash away from their traditional Twickenham home.
England could have no complaints about the result as Australia fully deserved their win. The Wallabies were a more potent attacking force - although they may have escaped with a forward pass in the build up to Nick Cummins' try - and had infinitely more ideas than their hosts but it was their superb defensive effort that proved key to clinching this contest. And this from a side shorn of a host of its leading figures including flanker David Pocock, lock James Horwill, scrum-half Will Genia and fly-half Quade Cooper.
England are a match for their old foes when it comes to commitment with their impressive spirit and determination to chase the game worthy of praise and such qualities will serve them well in the years ahead - especially when facing the uphill battle expected at the World Cup. But they need to sharpen up their act with ball in hand as they did not ask enough questions of Australia.
The Wallabies are used to having to shackle the free-flowing All Blacks, the equally dynamic Springboks and the unpredictable Pumas and England were not in that class today and it is something they will have to remedy - and fast - if they are to trouble their rivals in the next fortnight. Fly-half Toby Flood, scrum-half Danny Care and fullback Alex Goode offered only glimpses of their game-breaking ability. In contrast, the Wallabies clearly had a game plan with the likes of Kurtley Beale and Berrick Barnes keeping England guessing throughout.
Lancaster refused to question his side's decision-making despite what proved to be a couple of costly calls as England chased the game. They gambled in the second half by opting for a tap and go rather than taking a relatively easy kick and that mindset also saw them opt for a lineout and the chance of notching a try.
Neither paid off when an easy three points would have reduced the arrears to just three points and increased the pressure on the Wallabies. Scoring chances do not come that often against the best and should surely be taken when presented.
Instead, England backed themselves and took it for granted that they would return to the 'red zone', as it is known, if the chance was missed. But they failed to trouble the scoreboard in the second half and will surely not be so wasteful if chances are offered in the future. The trouble is that despite the proximity of Christmas, South Africa and New Zealand will not be in the mood for giving.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.