Purple patch: England fail to win in change strip again
England 14 Australia 20
England’s crashed to a defeat to Australia they may still be regretting in three years’ time.
The Wallabies bounced back from a 33-6 thumping in France last week to dominate England, whose chances of being a top seed at their home Rugby World Cup in 2015 now look remote.
England have worn purple shirts twice – against Argentina and Australia – and both times they have lost.
England clawed a half-time lead with a contentious try from Manu Tuilagi after Nick Cummins had scored his first international try for the Wallabies.
But Australia turned the screw after the interval with Berrick Barnes kicking a total of 15 points and it was not until England emptied their bench that they posed any consistent threat.
England will rue their bold decisions to kick second-half penalties to touch instead of taking points because the Wallabies defence held firm.
And the more panicky England became, the more mistakes they made and Australia saw out the victory to reclaim the Cook Cup.
England’s kit was officially described as “regal purple”, in order to reflect their place among the “rugby royalty”.
But with South Africa and New Zealand due at Twickenham over the next fortnight, England face an uphill battle to join the elite in the top band of World Cup seeds when the draw is made on December 4.
That would leave England with the prospect of facing one of the southern hemisphere giants in the pool stages.
Toby Flood kicked England into an early lead but they spent most of the first half battling to stay in the game, in the face of an Australia side who were more direct and more threatening.
Initially, England defended ferociously, hitting the Wallaby ball-carriers hard on the gainline, holding them up and driving them backwards.
But as the first half wore on, England began to slip off key first-up tackles and that allowed the Wallabies to build the pressure.
Danny Care did well to halt Tatafu Polota-Nau in the corner after Australia had attempted a crafty short lineout but they were soon on the back foot again.
Michael Hooper, the Australian openside with an English father, slipped through Tom Youngs’ tackle and offloaded to Cummins, forcing England to scramble again.
Wycliff Palu, Cummins and Alexander were all halted in their tracks before Barnes slotted the drop goal to bring the Wallabies level.
England built the phases for the first time but without any real menace, unlike the Wallabies who won a scrum against the head and then released Cummins on the outside again.
Tuilagi and then Flood made half-breaks for England before Thomas Waldrom took a quick tap penalty and flicked the ball inside to Chris Robshaw.
Hooper was forced to slow things down illegally and Flood’s second penalty crept over the bar to restore England’s lead but it was brief respite.
Hooper ran onto a long lineout and the Wallabies hammered away at the England line before Ben Alexander, with Benn Robinson on his shoulder, drove low from the ruck.
The television pictures were not conclusive enough for the try to be awarded but Joe Marler was penalised at the subsequent scrum, allowing the Wallabies to leave with some points.
Flood responded with a third penalty but Care, who had been very effective in defence, was punished for a loose kick with Nick Phipps launching the counter-attack.
Phipps beat one defender and then released Cummins with a questionably forward pass but the Wallaby wing streaked down the right and dived over in the corner for his maiden Test try.
Care made amends immediately, turning down a kickable penalty to take the quick tap. Tom Johnson and Brad Barritt shipped the ball wide for Tuilagi, who had Sharples on his outside but decided to go himself.
Tuilagi powered through Beale and Phipps and stretched for the line with the the TMO finally confirming he had got the ball down on the whitewash.
Australia were back in the groove immediately after the interval, with Barnes and Beale pulling the strings and the Wallaby pack edging the set-piece battle.
Barnes slotted three penalties in quick succession. England’s response was to send on replacements and two of them in particular made an immediate impact.
Joe Launchbury took a towering high ball before Mako Vunipola burst though the line and Ashton arrowed towards the corner before being tackled into touch just short of the line.
England piled on the pressure, twice rejecting penalty shots at goal in the hope of driving the Wallabies back from the lineout and it almost worked but Waldrom lost control as he grounded the ball.
This time the television official’s decision went against England.
Barnes’ long-range penalty attempt fell short and Vunipola continued to cause damage to the Wallabies, destroying one scrum and then carrying powerfully into the Australian 22.
England went for another quick tap penalty and Waldrom came steaming onto the ball but he was chopped down short of the line and again the gamble failed to pay off.