England put to the sword after Australia’s Bernard Foley cuts loose

The hosts have left their own party. England never led in a match they could not afford to lose, paying for coming into the tournament still trying to find themselves. Trailing by 17 points just after the interval, they cut the deficit to seven with 16 minutes to go, but it will not take a review to work out they were not good enough in a group that included the resurgent Wallabies and savvy Wales who both go through to the knockout stage. England’s final match against Uruguay on Saturday will be for ghouls only.

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Chris Robshaw of England reacts as Bernard Foley of Australia celebrates scoring their first try with Tevita Kuridrani of Australia during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between England and Australia at Twickenham Stadium

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England began with a cold fury rather than a raging intensity. Mistakes by Ben Youngs, who kicked the ball dead, and Mike Brown, who put a foot in touch near his own line while retrieving Bernard Foley’s kick downfield, gave the Wallabies an early attacking position. They came up short with a driving maul but should have scored when they moved the ball left and Rob Horne was free on the wing but Israel Folau held on to the ball too long and Brown smothered his pass.

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England had not had a full set of wheels on their chariot seven days before against Wales, struggling to build up speed, but with Jonathan Joseph fit again at outside-centre, they brought their attacking game and the triangle of Owen Farrell, Joseph and one of the wings coming into midfield confused a defence that had been expecting something less complicated. One move, on nine minutes, saw Farrell loop around Joseph and Anthony Watson’s diagonal run took him behind the defence, but while England’s training ground moves were, at the start of the half anyway, well executed, they were again far too slow to react to the unexpected – and basic skills, such as handling and passing, let them down.

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Perhaps it was nerves brought on by knowing defeat would render them the first host nation to fail to qualify for the knockout stages, but the more they tried to salvage something from the wreckage of the previous week, the more they showed they would not enhance the quarter-finals.

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Australia were forced to make a change on 10 minutes when Horne left the field holding his left arm. He was replaced by Kurtley Beale, an outside-half/full-back, and for a while the match settled into the normal England-Australia routine. Farrell kicked a 20-metre penalty to equalise the scores after Scott Sio had collapsed a scrum and England, led by Tom Youngs, who was at the heart of most moves, roused the crowd for a while only for the Wallabies to usher in the sound of silence when Folau crashed through Chris Robshaw’s tackle to set up an attack that was finished by Bernard Foley who, spotting Ben Youngs drifting too far wide, stepped inside the scrum-half and Joe Launchbury before wrong-footing Brown.

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Australia had the composure England lacked and when Ben Youngs, Jonny May, Joseph, Brown and Ben Morgan made half-breaks, they were invariably wrecked by a poor pass or slipshod handling. When one move broke down on Australia’s 22 four minutes from the interval, a section of the crowd booed, and did so more loudly when the final move of the half ended with Farrell losing control of the ball in contact.

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Australia were by then 17-3 ahead thanks to Foley’s second try. He had been spoken of as the Wallabies’ weakest link during the week, an unreliable goal-kicker and flaky operator, but the ease with which he and Beale swapped passes on 34 minutes to flummox the defence showed something England lacked. It could have been even worse for the hosts with Michael Hooper wrecking a strong attacking position by clearing out at a ruck with too much force, but as the players trooped off at half-time the England head coach, Stuart Lancaster, faced the most important team-talk of his international career, knowing it could be his last that actually mattered.

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England brought on George Ford, a fly-half, as a replacement for the injured wing Jonny May at the start of the second-half, less an indictment of Sam Burgess and more an acknowledgement that it would take tries to keep them in the World Cup and they needed a schemer at No10. It meant, though, Joseph moving to the wing, and with Brown still trying to find his head, having lost it here against Wales, England struggled to find their earlier fluency.

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Within 13 minutes of the second period Lancaster had replaced his two props after the Wallabies increased their lead after shoving England backwards at a scrum and winning a penalty against Joe Marler.

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England also made a change at scrum-half where Richard Wigglesworth replaced Ben Youngs to provide a speedy service rather than dart through gaps and, just as Australia looked to be on their way to the quarter-finals in comfort, England started their fightback. They had blown a three-man overlap when Foley, on a night when he appeared to be everywhere, intercepted but knocked on before he could gather the ball under pressure from Dan Cole, but finally, out of a move on 55 minutes, an England try came thanks to the footwork of Watson – who appeared to be hemmed in by three defenders – only to find space where none had appeared to exist.

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Farrell converted from the angle he would have had if Robshaw had opted to go for goal at the end against Wales.

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It was Australia who were betraying nerves, losing possession carelessly, even Foley losing the ball on the home 22. When the scrum-half Nick Phipps, lacking the dynamism of the player he replaced, Will Genia, twice messed up, first at the base of a ruck and then by passing into space, Joseph hacked on and Giteau was forced to go off his feet as play moved upfield.

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Farrell brought England back to within seven points but only for as long as it would take for a match to burn itself out. In the end it was the scrum, for so long the way to beat Australia, that cost them, and indiscipline. Burgess’s first notable act was to tackle Hooper around the head and, while reviewing the incident on the big screen, Poite noticed Farrell wiping out Matt Giteau off the ball. Stuart Lancaster and his coaching team sat in the stand, head in hands, and the boot of Foley and a try by Giteau took the Wallabies, and Wales, into the last eight. – The Guardian

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