For 44 minutes, it was a tight contest until England’s clinical performance saw the Wallabies well beaten 40-16 in Oita.
England produced 80 minutes of cup rugby which proved to be far too good for Michael Cheika’s Wallabies. In the run-up to the game, England coach Eddie Jones talked of defending with “brutality”. England’s defence, combined with excellent game management, gave the Wallabies minimal opportunity all match. England moves onto a semi-final, next week, while the Wallabies will be heading home.
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The game started brightly for Australia with an opening attack of 18 phases, but England’s resolute defence laid down a marker. Both teams made errors, due to a greasy pitch and the pressure of the situation, but Christian Lealiifano’s 11th-minute penalty gave the Wallabies an early lead. Lasting a mere six minutes, England were soon ahead when Jonny May went over as pressure mounted on the Wallabies. Reeling from conceding the try, the Wallabies conceding again one minute later when Henry Slade’s intercept and deft kick put May in again. For the rest of the half, England was happy to defend and kick while the Wallabies looked for answers on how to unlock the white wall of England’s defence. Despite plenty of ball, the Wallabies were playing in their own half for long periods.
At half time, the Wallabies went into the sheds with an eight-point deficit at 17-9. Cheika would have pointed out that despite England’s ascendency, the Wallabies were still in touch. More of a ponderance would have been how to breakthrough. Whatever was said, it was Marika Korobeite who provided the answer with his sheer pace. The winger was a nuisance to England all game and his 44th-minute try, supplied by a Reece Hodge pass, closed the gap. When Lealiifano kicked the conversion, the score was 17-16 to England.
If the Wallabies thought that it was their opportunity to get ahead, those thoughts were transitory. Kyle Sinckler’s try, despite Kurtley Beale’s best efforts to stop the prop, opened the game. England captain Owen Farrell, under pressure due to a patchy tournament with the boot, punished the Wallabies with a series of penalties. Needing to get a foothold in the game, and struggling to keep a growing England at bay, resulted in turnovers and conceded penalties that were consistently punished. As England became more clinical in their field management, the Wallabies gameplay fell apart. England used the rolling maul to excellent effect to gain field position and wind down the clock.
The game was over as a contest before Anthony Watson’s intercept try, in the 75th minute, put the icing on the cake. Farrell’s eighth successful kick pushed the lead out to 40-16. Before the end of the match, Korobeite had another try scrubbed out for an infringement. It would have been well deserved for the player but flattering to a well-beaten Wallabies team.
While England moves on to Yokohama next week for their semi-final, the Wallabies will be heading back to home to scrutiny on their campaign. Several of the Wallabies see a close to their international careers on a sour note. The big question will be about Michael Cheika’s future as coach. Rugby Australia needs to decide whether they give their coach more time to build a squad for France 2023 or if it’s finally time to call time on Cheika’s tenure. It has not always been plain sailing for a coach who is happy to defend his players while not, at times, being totally honest about his own failings. Perhaps a Rugby World Cup final and a quarter-final is not enough to suggest that four more years is the best course for the Wallabies.
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