England 40 Australia 16
Not for the first time in their Rugby World Cup history England gave their fans some palpitations en route, but Eddie Jones and his players have lived to fight another day. The semi-finals now await after a seesawing contest in Oita against a battling Australia side who, for 65 minutes, made their opponents work extremely hard for their place in the tournament's last four.
The final margin did not entirely reflect an eventful game in which the Wallabies counterattacking excellence made life distinctly uncomfortable for England at times. Only in the final quarter did they finally establish a measure of forward control, built on the foundations of a rampaging 46th-minute score by their tighthead prop Kyle Sinckler which put crucial daylight between the teams.
Two first-half tries from Jonny May also gave Jones’s side a crucial early cushion, with a late intercept score from Anthony Watson and Owen Farrell’s 100% contribution from the kicking tee also helping to keep England out of the Wallabies’ clutches. It earned England a measure of consolation for their 33-13 defeat to their old rivals at the 2015 World Cup and was also the seventh win in a row for Jones over Michael Cheika’s side.
A one-sided outcome, however, did not always look on the cards. Australia had looked the brighter side initially, probing for gaps in England’s defensive spacing and taking an early lead via Christian Lealiifano’s first successful penalty. Their opponents took a while to make any kind of consistent front-foot impression, before two tries inside four minutes from May banished their jangling nerves.
The first was the product of a destructive hard line down the middle by Manu Tuilagi which sucked in the Australia defence and stretched the cover further out, allowing Farrell and Curry to put May over in the left corner. The Wallabies needed to strike back immediately but, instead, David Pocock’s attempted pass to Lealiifano was intercepted by Henry Slade, whose chip ahead with his supposedly weaker right foot gave May another chance to show his searing pace.
Farrell’s second touchline conversion deepened the pain and left Australia to play catch-up rugby, precisely the scenario they had been anxious to avoid. To their credit Cheika’s side did not panic, attacking with verve and using purposeful pick-and-go tactics to try to fluster England. In terms of the scoreboard it yielded only a couple more penalties for Lealiifano to one from Farrell but at no stage could England entirely relax.
As well as enjoying 60 per cent of first-half possession, the Wallabies were doing a good job of not allowing England to settle and the first score after the break felt important from both sides’ perspective. Australia’s second-half record against their opponents has not been great of late but within two minutes of the restart they had reduced the margin to a single point. Elliot Daly, under a bit of pressure, knocked on 40 metres from his own line and slick use of the resulting turnover ball all gave Marika Koroibete the space to burn off Daly and register only the third try against England in this tournament to date.
Would it prove a decisive moment? The answer was soon delivered by a beaming Sinckler as he stormed untouched through the unguarded heart of the Wallaby defence to touch down by the posts. The Harlequins front-rower used to be a fly-half in his youth but this was the stuff of any prop forward’s dreams.
Sinckler was also responsible for a crucial defensive rip as Australia pressed for another score before Watson’s final intervention and Farrell’s fourth conversion took England into 40-point territory.
Koroibete looked to have scored a late consolation try but Jérôme Garcès asked the TMO to have a look and Michael Hooper’s pass was clearly forward, leaving the final score 40-16.
There have been more conveniently-situated stadiums in World Cup history – exactly how and why two of rugby’s showpiece games ended up in the Japanese equivalent of Cleethorpes remains a good question – but England will for ever remember their visit to this striking dome.
At the 13th attempt it was also the first time in Rugby World Cup history that a coach has guided another country to victory over his homeland. Jones will be rather less concerned about such minor details than making sure this is not the last success England enjoy at this tournament. – Guardian