This autumn’s Old Mutual Wealth series continues this weekend, with England taking on Australia at Twickenham on Saturday in a hotly anticipated match up. England looked far from their best against Argentina at the weekend, whilst Australia seem to have turned a corner with a victory over Wales after some mixed performances of late. So in order to whet the appetite, we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about one of the all-time great match ups between the two old rivals – in 2010.
After beating New Zealand in Hong Kong, Australia followed up with a victory over Wales in Cardiff before they took on England. The home side for their part had been well beaten by the All Blacks the week before and were looking to improve their patchy defence ahead of their clash with the Wallabies. England brought in Dylan Hartley as a starter, replacing World Cup winner Steve Thompson, while Australia also switched hookers with Stephen Moore coming back from injury to take over from Saia Faingaa. Much was made pre-kick off about the importance of the front row battle, with Australia’s deficiencies in the scrum a serious point of concern during their match with Wales.
England knew they wanted to target the set piece, but they would have to be wary of Australia’s dangerous back line, featuring hall-of-fame candidates like Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau, Quade Cooper and Will Genia. That England’s own centre partnership of Mike Tindall and Shontayne Hape had been found out somewhat the previous week did not help matters. However, Chris Ashton had made a blistering start to his international career, and whilst he had a lot to learn defensively, England were hoping to make use of the former league man to cause some havoc of their own.
Martin Johnson’s fiendish plot came to fruition after 24 minutes, with Ashton leaving his wing and crashing over following some neat interplay between Tindall, Mark Cueto and Tom Croft. Toby Flood and James O’Connor then exchanged a series of penalties, but the action in-between was end-to-end, with Giteau being sent to the naughty step after infringing at the breakdown with England camped on the Wallaby 5 metre line. The scoreboard read 16-6 at half time, but Australia were far from finished and if O’Connor had brought a better pair of kicking boots the score line would have more accurately reflected the tightness of the game.
The second half scoring opened with another Flood penalty, but it was the next score that has gained iconic status amongst England supporters, even if people now reckon the man who scored it is a bit of a muppet.
With Australia banging on the door inches from England’s try line, the home side somehow managed to snaffle a turnover. Rather than doing the sensible thing and just booting the bloody thing out of harm’s way, Ben Youngs, winning just his fifth cap sold an immaculate dummy, shipped it out to Courtney Lawes who drew two defenders and popped it off to Chris Ashton who sprinted 90 metres before hitting his patented “Ash Splash” (ugh.) under the posts.
Australia refused to die though, and Kurtley Beale sent Twickenham into squeaky bum time with two splendid tries, the first a neat chip and regather over fullback Ben Foden, and then getting on the end of a flowing left-to-right move courtesy of Berrick Barnes for the second. With momentum now firmly with the men in gold, a comeback looked possible with the scores set at 29-18 and with 15 minutes to go.
However, a missed conversion from O’Connor, and two more penalties from Flood put an end to any hopes of a late revival, with the final score 35-18. Flood, for his part, wrote his name into the record books with his 25 points against the Wallabies more than any other English player.
A lot has changed since that day. Only five of England’s contingent remain in the squad, and only four of Australia’s match day 23 from seven years ago featured against Wales on Saturday. Australia’s status as a world superpower has come into question in recent years, first with the exodus of players to the Northern Hemisphere, and more lately with New Zealand’s dominance down under, but they have shown signs of life in their recent performances and will present a real challenge to England, especially given the injuries facing Eddie Jones’ squad.
England will be looking desperately around the locker room to work out just where that Ashton-esque spark of magic might come from, because for all their genuine talent, they might need something special to beat the Wallabies this weekend.