On Saturday as Romain Poite blew the final whistle in Brisbane Saturday 3rd October 2015 seemed like a lifetime ago. On that day England were unceremoniously dumped out of their home World Cup by Michael Cheika's Australia and a little over 8 months later the home nation amassed England's greatest number of points on Australian soil and won in Brisbane for the first time in their history.
In the opening-test Dylan Hartley and his side didn't decide to do things the easy way, instead they gave Australia a two-try head start and found themselves defensively at sea in the first 15-minutes. Ominous dread was looming and yet once Owen Farrell's boot started England's account and Eddie Jones made a tactical substitution England found the right path.
The switch, bringing George Ford on after just 29-minutes and moving Farrell to 12, was a bold decision and a 'gut feeling' from Eddie Jones. His thought process was that that they needed to change the game and gain some control back and the move paid dividends. Naturally Luther Burrell will have been unsettled by receiving the shepherds crook and hopefully it doesn't rock his confidence too much. But, the tried and tested combination of Ford and Farrell worked much better defensively and provided the creativity that Jones was looking for. It was Ford's sumptuous pass out wide that put Marland Yarde in for a vital try and later it was his beautifully weighted chip that set up Jack Nowell for the final try of the night. The 23-year-old's bounce back from his last test against Wales showed his class and should have silenced those that disgraced themselves by booing him at Twickenham.
As the pack gained the ascendency Owen Farrell's impenetrable composure and sweet striking of the ball made Australia pay. The Saracen is excelling every moment that he's on the field and is simply superb to watch. It's his ability to keep the scoreboard moving, his defensive solidity and ability to combine and manage the game alongside George Ford that is making England tick. Bernard Foley highlighted the flip side when you don't have such an assured goal kicker in your ranks and that will concern Michael Cheika heading into the final two tests.
Bodyline was the buzzword leading into the test, with that representing the abrasive and confrontational style that Eddie Jones' England were going to approach the match with. One man showed exactly what Bodyline meant and did so in style and that was James Haskell. From his opening bruising hit on David Pocock to his 18th and final tackle of the night he was everywhere. He showed us his step and his pace and at times you thought that there were two James Haskells on the pitch such was his work rate. The Wasps captain made double the number of tackles of England's next best defensive charge, George Ford , and played with a fervent desire that inspired those around him. It was his breakdown work, alongside that of Chris Robshaw and Maro Itoje, that contained the trio that destroyed England in the Rugby World Cup. Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper and David Pocock were less than half the unit that they were on that October night and it was down to Haskell and co's endless work rate.
'We didn't play well today. We gave the Wallabies some easy tries and we need to work on our defence. Australia put a lot of pace on the ball which we don't encounter in games in England. We're obviously happy with the result - since Captain Cook England have only won three Tests here - but we can improve significantly in terms of our ball-carrying, second-man work and defence spacing. We can also still put more set-piece pressure on Australia.'
By now we all know that Eddie Jones does not say things for dramatic effect instead he believes that his side didn't play to their full potential in Brisbane. Of course tidying up their defensive shape is an obvious area of improvement, particularly when you look at how easily Australia raced to that 10-0 lead using the full width of the pitch. Australia must be contained better from the outset because they'll pull more tricks out of the bag now that they've dusted off their International cobwebs. Also from a ball carrying point of view there's plenty more to come. We're used to seeing Billy Vunipola busting through the line and making clean breaks left, right and centre. We didn't on Saturday and while credit can go to Australia for containing him Eddie will expect his number eight to create a few more holes in Melbourne as well as others like George Kruis and Dan Cole doing the same.
Of course Eddie Jones wants more from England, he wouldn't be driving them forwards and getting the most out of an extremely talented group of individuals if he didn't. But, for a moment let's just stop and recognise their achievement in Brisbane. England had never won there, England had won only three tests ever in Australia and yet they came from behind and put their hosts to the sword. The touring party will now head to Melbourne with the confidence that comes from an opening-test victory and the burning desire to put the series to bed before they reach Sydney. What an opportunity that is and what an test match it will be at the AAMI Park.
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