x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Rugby union: World Cup seeds of doubt for England

England in danger of missing out on top seeding for home World Cup after defeat to Australia, while South Africa and New Zealand prevail.

Australia captain Nathan Sharpe, centre, lifts the Cook Cup following the Wallabies’ victory over England at Twickenham.
Australia captain Nathan Sharpe, centre, lifts the Cook Cup following the Wallabies’ victory over England at Twickenham.

LONDON // Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, said his team must learn the lessons of life at the top level of Test rugby after they were beaten 20-14 by Australia at Twickenham.

A Manu Tuilagi try and three Toby Flood penalties saw England lead 14-11 at half time before fullback Berrick Barnes kicked three second-half penalties to wrest back the Cook Cup for the Aussies, who bounced back from their thrashing by France last weekend.

The defeat could have long-term significance as it means England, currently ranked fifth in the world, are now unlikely to earn a top seeding for the World Cup on home soil in 2015.

Lancaster said: "I'm disappointed we lost but I thought Australia played a smart game and bounced back from their defeat against France last week and were competitive in all areas.

"There were lots of positives from our own performance but the reality is we needed to take the opportunities we created, especially in the last 20 minutes when we thought our tempo would pay.

"They are the lessons we have to learn for South Africa next week."

Some of those opportunities were squandered when England twice took decisions in the second half to tap and go or kick for touch with penalties rather than kick for goal.

However, Lancaster backed his players.

He said: "We'll look at every decision but with the momentum at the time I thought it was the right decision. You back your players on the field. The momentum was with us and I thought from there we were going to score a try.

"If we are going to give players the confidence to go out and play then we have to back them.

"We have areas to work on, but there was lots of intent to play. It was just little bits of execution towards the end of each phase that put us under pressure."

Australia scored the game's first try through wing Nick Cummins, who finished off a scything move with aplomb for his first international touchdown.

Barnes added a drop goal and a penalty in the first half and England's fate might have been different if No 8 Thomas Waldrom had not spilt the ball in the act of touching down.

Robbie Deans, the Australia head coach, felt his side had regained their winning mentality following their 33-6 defeat against France last weekend.

"It was much better than last week and obviously it had to be," he said. "A big part of the adjustment was mental. Paris is a bit alluring but in Tests you have to turn up or you get blown away.

"The lads defended very well because England threw a lot at them. The boys had a lot of faith in the defensive line and I think that showed. I think we went a bit defensive in the last 10 but that was indicative of the confidence they had and their ability to hold their line. Any result at Twickenham is significant, it doesn't come easily here. I'm pleased for the lads."

Deans refused to criticise England for squandering their penalty chances.

"They wanted to win the game," he said. "We had been competitive in field position. You make those decisions in real time and that was an indication of what they were feeling in the contest.

"It was a remarkable Test when you consider how intense it was. In the 80th minute the intensity was still there around the contact. That is the nature of Test football now, there is no let-up."

Wallaby try scorer Cummins was delighted just to savour his first touchdown for his country,

"It was great to get a bit of meat, especially in front of a crowd like that," said Cummins. "It was great."

******

Scotland waited 50 minutes to find their attacking game against South Africa, but a spell of sustained pressure could not overturn an Adrian Strauss double at Murrayfield as the visitors won 21-10.

The Scots could not cope with a first-half physical barrage and Strauss went over after a maul before intercepting Mike Blair’s pass early in the second period to help open up an 18-point lead.

Replacement scrum-half Henry Pyrgos soon crossed for the home side and sparked half an hour of relentless pressure, but the home side missed a series of chances.

Andy Robinson, the Scotland head coach, said his team had been “bullied” .

“We’ve got a lot to learn,” he said. “A lot to learn in improving defence and also in attack, particularly physically. I felt they bullied us a little in the first half.”

South Africa head coach Heyneke Meyer agreed his defence held the key in the end.

“All credit to Scotland, they played superbly and just great, great defence kept them out,” he said. “It was not a great game but I’ll take an ugly win.”

Man of the match Francois Louw added: “You’ve got to give credit to the Scots. They came out and put on a fight there. We had to fight for every inch.

“Credit to our guys for holding out in defence.”

*****

World champions New Zealand overcame a slow start and a series of early errors to beat Italy 42-10.

Aaron Cruden kicked for 17 points, Julian Savea scored two late tries and Kieran Read, Ma’a Nonu and Cory Jane also had tries for the top-ranked All Blacks, who led 13-7 at half time.

Alberto Sgarbi scored a first-half try for the 11th-ranked Azzurri, and Luciano Orquera added one conversion and one drop goal before an enthusiastic sold-out crowd of more than 70,000 at the Stadio Olimpico.