LONDON // The England manager Martin Johnson has plenty to work with when the players gather tomorrow after a performance against Australia where the few chinks of light were overshadowed by amateurish thinking and poor execution. England were beaten 28-14 by a well-drilled Wallaby team who punished the hosts harshly for their misdemeanours by slotting seven of the eight kickable penalties they were offered.
Many of those offences were inexcusable and the former lock will no doubt read the riot act to ensure there is no repeat against the world champions South Africa next week. Johnson will also be worried about England's lack of power in the pack, a concept unthinkable when the World Cup-winning skipper was in the trenches himself. Andrew Sheridan, who almost single-handedly destroyed the Australian scrum on his debut in 2005 and again in last year's World Cup quarter-final, made no impact, while lock Steve Borthwick seems to be captain in name only after another failure in the "aura test".
Adding bite, menace and physicality are easier said than done but it is exactly that sort of leadership by example that Johnson, with no coaching experience, was brought in to provide. What will be much tougher will be how he and his coaching team set about training the players to use the chances they do create, not a skill that can be passed on with a loud voice or stern look. "We had the pace, there were lots of mismatches out there but we didn't see them or exploit them," Johnson said.
"The back three will be frustrated not to have got the ball when they had space but you've got to see those opportunities and doing it in the heat of the battle is what it's all about." The attack coach Brian Smith must have been tearing his hair out as England wasted a series of opportunities by running straight and hard instead of looking wide. When they did, it was too often the forwards, twice in the form of the hooker Lee Mears, who ended up gunning for the corner with the inevitable result of being met by an Australian cover tackle.
Despite England's failure to attain their expected superiority in a messy scrum battle and with Australia bossing the line-out, they did manage to generate a huge amount of possession. The home side were certainly not starved of possession. The match statistics show that England had the lions share of the ball with a 67 per cent share of territory. The Wallabies were forced to make 159 tackles to the 56 of England.
However, only when Danny Cipriani cut loose on a couple of occasions did England actually look dangerous and their only try came from Nick Easter after a forward shove. The fly-half had a mixed day, with some horrible kicking and an ill-advised, poorly executed drop-goal attempt just when England were getting up some steam. Cipriani's opposite number Matt Giteau kicked beautifully, landing seven of eight penalties, and was a calm and efficient orchestrator.
Cipriani, 21, is still finding his feet after his lengthy injury lay-off, will no doubt be offered sage advice to follow Giteau's example and not try to push things too quickly. He remains a key part of Johnson's New England and with his ability to cut through the best of defences will hopefully be encouraged to continue with his natural game. *Reuters