Oval Talk

England find their total game

Oval Talk

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That England downed Australia at Twickenham on Saturday was not the biggest shock of the international season to date, rather it was the manner in which Martin Johnson's men achieved a victory that should now signal a new era for the red rose.

Oval Talk was in the majority in thinking that the Wallabies would be too well-drilled, too fast behind the scrum, and - quite frankly - too talented for an England side that were still finding their feet.

Yes, England had managed a one-point win over the Wallabies last summer, and yes they had shown distinct promise in losing narrowly to New Zealand in their opening autumn fixture, and away to European champions France in the last Six Nations.

But were they good enough to defeat a Wallabies side that could boast recent wins over New Zealand and South Africa and whose back-line looks destined to become one of the most threatening in recent years? Most thought not.

Word in the UK media and Twickenham bars was that England were going to target the Australia pack, and in particular their supposedly 'vulnerable' front row, as they did in Sydney in June and in Marseille in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final.

Andrew Sheridan, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole were seen as the players who could give England a key edge in a battle plan drawn up in the image of Johnson and his Leicester heritage.

And yet, England produced a performance of such verve, imagination and character that all of a sudden they are being talked of as World Cup contenders for next year.

Gone was the stodge and conservatism of Johnson's early reign, and in place England produced a style which can best be described as 'total rugby'. From one to 15, England were magnificent.

Sure England had their stars, not least Ben Youngs, Chris Ashton and Mark Cueto, but every player looked comfortable with ball in hand and, perhaps more importantly, appeared to openly embrace an attacking approach.

Attack coach Brian Smith has too often appeared a solitary figure in the England coaching set-up, but the Australian's DNA was all over this performance.

There seemed a clash of cultures this time last year when a Steve Borthwick-led England appeared unable to buy into the open, running style Smith had developed at London Irish.

Not so now - and it was perhaps the outstanding performances of locks Tom Palmer and Courtney Lawes that truly signalled the end of the dour and unimaginative approach that has too often been associated with England.

Johnson claims that the victory was the result of two years of hard work and a youthful, developing team finally finding their feet.

No doubt there is mileage in that explanation, as well as the fact that the former England icon now has a full complement of players to choose from.

Johnson has certainly improved as a selector, but it should not be forgotten that luck with fitness and injury did him few favours earlier in his managerial career - so much so that only three players from Saturday's win started the corresponding fixture last year, which the hosts lost 18-9.

Clearly, England now have to back up their impressive display with wins over Samoa and world champions South Africa over the next two weekends. The words swallow and summer come to mind.

But their dismantling of Australia, who were arguably the world's form side ahead of their Twickenham thumping, has left no one in any doubt as to England's potential. Three wins out of four autumn internationals is now a very realistic target.


OT was lucky enough to be at Twickenham 20 years ago when France wing Philippe Saint-Andre finished off a brilliant team try in the Six Nations Grand Slam decider won by England. 

Was Chris Ashton's 96-metre effort against the Wallabies a better effort? It's a tough call. Ashton's might win a vote because it involved more individual brilliance, but was the wing's blazing run better than Didier Camberabero's contribution when he chipped ahead in a tight channel on the touchline, caught the ball on the full and kicked cross field for Saint-Andre to score?

You decide.


Anthracite might be a word more common to miners and geography students but it got a thorough outing in the press last week when England revealed an alternative strip to their usual white jersey.

The RFU and its commercial director Paul Vaughan took some flak amid accusations of trying to generate a profit in a manner more associated with Premier League football clubs.

But rumour has it that revenue generation was not the only reason for the new strip. Apparently, the usual white jersey is too easy to identify at the breakdown and helps referees to spot any misdemeanours by England players.

Quite frankly OT could not care less what colour England play in so long as they continue to produce performances like the one that put Australia to the sword.

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