ANALYSIS: “The silver lining is a mirage


Are you english? Do you like straws? Do you squeeze them as tight as possible when times are tough? You bet you do.

Eddie Jones’ team has no choice but to opt for the glass half full rather than half empty. They must believe the stunning impact of 19-year-old child prodigy Henry Arundell scoring with his first touch in Test rugby followed by that of another debutant Jack van Poortvliet gives them reason to believe for the rest of this series.

Call it burying your head in the sand. Call it ignoring the true state of affairs. Call it crazy. And it’s. The silver lining is a mirage. It was a major setback for England, a crushing defeat.

Three minutes from the end, led by 16 points to 30-14, England were on their backs, humiliated on the scoreboard.

They had played what Del Boy would have called Plonker Rugby allowing the Wallabies to somehow withdraw from the canvas, three starters injured and Darcy Swain sent off for a mad header, and set up the position from which they could nail their first victory in nine attempts against England. This is the correct account register.

England lost to Australia for the first time in seven years despite so much in their favor, numerically, territorially, in terms of momentum, all looking pretty damn good. And yet they ruined everything. Highligths. If it was a World Cup quarter-final, England would be on the return flight. Results matter. And, after another weak Six Nations, England have nothing in the bank in that regard.

The losses are piling up. This might be okay if you consider yourself a mid-tier brawler. Win a few, lose a few, mid-table mediocrity.

This is not England’s aspirational status. They spend a lot of money. And they have every right to expect big returns.

It’s not Pommie’s arrogance. This is how New Zealand, South Africa, Australia would see themselves as well as, currently, France, Ireland too, notwithstanding the result at Eden Park. It’s called being a competitor.

It’s the reality of a turbulent and uneven night in Perth, a rambling affair that will have done little to convince neutrals who feasted on the home state at the same stadium just six days earlier.

England grabbed all 14 players from the Barbarians before the start. Dave Rennie had obviously done his homework. Lose a man and England are vulnerable.

Of course, they were reduced to 14 themselves for 20 minutes with hair puller Jonny Hill and then Billy Vunipola in the trash. But the fact that once again they couldn’t profit from Wallaby’s misfortunes shows just how fragile their confidence is.

There is so little value in the tank when it comes to rock-solid confidence. They were above Australia but just couldn’t push their superiority down. Should they have opted for a throw-in rather than taking the three points at 11-9 early in the second half?

(Photo by Getty Images)

A confident team would have done the job, whatever the consequences might have been. Maybe the Wallabies felt it too.

England had a golden opportunity to put a massive dent in the Wallaby’s psyche. Even though they gather to return to Brisbane and Sydney, Australia managed to get rid of the monkey.

It’s a safe bet that England will improve as they head to Queensland, work on their finishing, strengthen their defence, focus on the final positives of these debutants.

But Australia too. No team can hope to accomplish anything without character within its ranks. The Wallabies showed at Optus Stadium – and what an impressive venue it looked – that they had the Digger spirit of their ancestors.

They stuck together, didn’t flinch or panic and finished strong with three well-deserved tries in the second half. Michael Hooper never wavered, never gave off the wrong kind of vibes, just kept digging and cheering.

Samu Kerevi did like Samu Kerevi, exploding forward, putting his side on the front foot. Pete Samu made a change when he arrived while Nic White was craftier than ever. The peloton came up against it after a stubborn retaliation from Swain, but they now know they have nothing to fear from England in the weeks to come. This is a big advantage for Australia.

Of course, there were some bright spots for England, most notably Arundell on death. Jones must seize the moment and start with the London Irish flyer at Suncorp.

Arundell is one for the here and now not to mention the future. His arrival on the international scene is a plus for England. There were other more substantive issues. Billy Vunipola and Danny Care both showed that they still have something to offer at this level, providing a head start in their various ways. Freddie Steward at the back confirmed his budding reputation.

The Marcus Smith-Owen Farrell axis didn’t score despite occasional glimpses of what could be. Jones has a conundrum to solve in midfield in the absence of Manu Tuilagi. On this evidence, he is no closer to finding a solution.

It will be a difficult fortnight for England. The best they can aim for is a modicum of respectability if they level the streak in Brisbane and make it to a decider in Sydney. That’s all they can hope for, a slugger’s luck. It’s a possibility of getting out of prison, no more than that.

This happens too often for there to be comfort at Twickenham. The harsh reality, as this sloppy and disappointing performance illustrates, is that they have lost the ability to impose themselves on an opposition.

France and New Zealand, South Africa to a lesser extent, expect to win on the pitch. This was the case with England. This is no longer the case.




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