Saturday, October 06, 2007

Oh Ye Of Little Faith!

Kickoff - I feel slightly sick!

Berwick Barnes's long kick in the 3rd minute just wouldn't go over the deadball line, and England took a dodgy 22m dropout, with Australia turning over deep in the England 22. The Aussies won a penalty but Stirling Mortlock missed the chance at 3 points. Seconds later, he had another go with a longer range kick, but less of an angle. No mistake this time, 3-0 to Australia.

The restart was much more promising, with the forwards chasing and wrapping it up. Mike Catt [left] kicked to the corner for Paul Sackey but he was taken into touch. The Australians took the lineout but England continued to pressure.

The first scrum was an Australian putin, but after two collapses, there was a bit of argey-bargey. It went down again at the reset, and again. The penalty went against England, despite looking like the gold shirt being the first one to buckle. Mortlock had a go at the posts from the helfway line, but it went very wide - perhaps justice was served.

George Gregan, making his record 139th appearance for Australia, snuck through a half-hole off a lineout, England defended and turned over in the Aussie's half. Keeping the ball alive, Twinkle Toes Robinson made a massive break up the middle. It went both ways across the field, England keeping possession. A couple of minutes of furious defence for the Australians, eventually they turned over. A good passage of play from England.

Australian lineout on the half way came back to them, but the loose ball was turned over and England pressed upfield again. The Aussie hooker made a shocking clearance putting them offside, and England won a penalty. Jonny did the honours to take them level after the first quarter. England looked sharper and the more dangerous of the two teams.

23 minutes in, Australia had another scrum. The same old story - collapsing all round. Finally, England won the penalty in the Aussie half. Wilkinson lined up the kick, and over it sailed - taking him to the highest points scorer in the history of the World Cup, surpassing Gavin Hastings' record and boosting morale for the Men in White - 6-3 up.

The restart was won by Australia but Mike Catt and Paul Sackey tackled furiously and the forwards turned over the ball. Daniel Vickerman was pinged for infringing in the ruck. Wilkinson lined up for the posts again: he couldn't quite make it through the sticks.

The 22m dropout was kicked over the English try line by Barnes. England looked much more lively at their own restart. Australia's lineout was solid in 30th minute, with Chris Latham making strides through the midfield. England had to drop back into defensive mode, with Loti Tuqiri breaking the line too. Then the Australian forwards had a go at inching up. Then through more hands and rucks, back to Tuqiri and the big winger went over for his first try of the tournament. Mortlock's conversion banana'd between the posts and Australia were 6-10 up.

Then at 35 minutes, Paul Sackey was taken out in the air, catching a high kick, and Adam Ashley-Cooper was penalised. Wilko kicked a huge ball downfield for a lineout and the England forwards rumbled on. The maul was brought down, but Wilkinson pulled the kick from out wide. Half time came soon after.

Mike Catt got himself a bloody nose just as the second half got under way, and then England won a penalty at the scrum. The next lineout was deep into Aus territory, but England were turned over. Then back again, and Wilkinson knocked on.

At 45 minutes, England disrupted the Australian lineout in their own half, and although the Aussies had the scrum putin, England disrupted well - almost winning against the head. England turned over, Mike Catt was unable to pickup without knocking on - but they were right under the posts.

The scrum was reset - 5m closer to the Aussies tryline. Andrew Sheridan was making mincemeat of the Aussie front row. They won the scrum - scrambled - but the clearance kick was a shocker, so England had a 5m lineout. The forwards went inching up the field, sniffing the line. Eventually it was flung wide, then back again. The Australians got themselves offside. Jonny Wilkinson had taken a battering during the play, so there was a short delay before he took the kick, and he scored the crucial three points to take them just one point behind, 9-10.

The restart saw Australia going into attack, but Nick Easter [right] fed off the scraps and turned over. The England clearance gave Australia a lineout, but that was immediately turned over. A bit of ping-pong later, Chris Latham tried for a long-range drop goal, but it went very wide.

Australia had a go at attack at 55 minutes, but England kept up their defensive discipline. England turned over and kicked back upfield for territory. The lineout was exactly on half way - it went loose and Matthew Tait kicked ahead to take England right up to the Australian line but they knocked on. England got the putin at 5m: a vital position to score.

Wheel on the replacements! The forwards drove towards the line and Australia infringed - 3 points were better than nothing, so Wilkinson lined up the kicking tee - England were ahead 12-10 and the Wallabies were beginning to creak, particularly at the scrum.

The green and gold came fighting back after the restart, they looked dangerous for a couple of phases and then knocked on. They got another opportunity, but Daniel Vickerman was seen to take out Andy Gomarsall [elft] well after he'd passed the ball, giving England the chance of a penalty, to kick deep into the Wallabies half.

At 63 minutes, Mike Catt was subbed for Toby Flood, a chance to see what the Newcastle boy could do. England took the catch right at the back of the lineout. Simon Shaw [right] powered up the pitch, with plenty of support for him. Josh Lewsey knocked on from a pass from Jason Robinson, but it was another avarage scrum for the Wallabies. England turned over, but had to kick to clear - the Aussie lineout was shakey, turned over from the back. Jonny Wilkinson attempted a drop goal but it went wide.

At 67 minutes, Australia were back on the attack, but Nathan Sharpe knocked on in England's half. Lawrence Dallaglio [left] was brought on in time for the scrum. Then Australia got another putin at 69 minutes - George Gregan was having trouble getting the ball in the tunnel with a collapse, and England won a free kick. They chose to take another scrum - it was a good call, given the dominance of the England forwards. It collapsed again.

After a bit of ping-pong with poor kicks, eventually Australia kicked long and it went dead over England's try line. Australia won the dropout and were on the attack again - Gregan knocked on and they gave away a penalty - time for Jonny to stand up for the kick right on the half way line. The most important kick of his career since THAT drop goal. It went just wide to the left.

Five minutes to go, and it was another kicking ping-pong scenario. The Wallabies won their lineout at the half way line. They kept pushing, England kept defending. Worsley gave away a penalty. Stirling Mortlock went to take the kick - but it didn't have the accuracy.

Countdown - two minutes to go, two points in it. Australia won the restart, then England tackled and knocked on. The scrum was on, Gregan feeding, but Autralia couldn't clear it far enough. England had the lineout throw, with twenty seconds to go.

George Chuter got the ball to English hands, but Australia turned it over somehow. The clock ticked over the 80 minutes, Australia knocked on, and the whistle blew!

So England have pulled off what many thought was highly unlikely - the Aussies go home and the Sweet Chariot can rumble on towards the semis in Paris next weekend.

It was a remarkable turnround from the 36-0 pumelling England got against South Africa just three weeks ago. They looked like a completely different side - competing at the breakdown, scavanging ball wherever they could and certainly getting the upper hand in the scrum. They tackled as if their lives depended on it, and that sort of defence can only stand them in good stead for the next game. Andrew Sheridan [left] was named Man of the Match, an indictment of the forwards' contribution to the win. But Australian supporters will spare a thought for George Gregan, retiring after the match with a mammoth 139 caps. I'm sure he'll be missed.

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