England 32-15 Australia: First-half showing sets hosts on path to victory
England (16) 32
Tries: Steward, Blamire Con: Farrell, Smith Pen: Farrell 5, Smith
Australia (12) 15
Pens: O’Connor 5
England passed their first serious test of the autumn as an incisive first-half attacking performance paved the way to an eighth straight victory over Australia.
Full-back Freddie Steward sliced through for England’s first try after just six minutes.
James O’Connor’s boot kept a dogged Australia in the fight, cutting the hosts’ lead to 16-15 after the break.
But as the game got scrappy, England crept clear via a series of penalties before replacement hooker Jamie Blamire took advantage of some tired, stretched defence to motor in for his sixth try in just four Test appearances in the final passage of play.
Head coach Eddie Jones has called for this autumn to mark a watershed. An influx of new names is intended to flush out complacencies and propel the team towards the Rugby World Cup in France in two years’ time.
The next generation have come with a fresh philosophy and their licence to play more freely was obvious early on.
The forwards combined well, offloading to turn half-breaks into major gains, while the backline, marshalled by Marcus Smith, frequently found holes.
The busy Jamie George, left out of the initial squad for the autumn, came closest to adding the second try their first-half invention deserved.
The hooker steamed through a hole from Courtney Lawes’ quick hands only to be stopped short and then had the ball dislodged by a superb last-ditch tackle from Nic White as he dived over the line.
Jonny Hill was held up over the line at the bottom of a diving maul after the break, but it was a rare threatening moment for England.
The hosts’ all-court ambition gave way to pragmatism in the final quarter as they fell back on their familiar strengths and some of the early enthusiasm drained out of the Twickenham crowd.
Smith survives to thrive in testing encounter
For Smith, this was the most testing examination so far of his potential to lead England into a new era.
The 22-year-old thrilled en route to the Premiership title with Harlequins and his first steps in Test rugby – in comfortable wins over the United States, Canada and Tonga – have been assured.
However Australia ask more searching questions. The Wallaby forwards squeezed his space in the opening minutes and an uncertain, aimless bomb shortly after suggested Smith was still getting his bearings.
Jones’ decision to keep Owen Farrell’s steadying hand in the team soon eased those nerves.
Farrell, a veteran of 93 previous England Tests to Smith’s three, stepped into first receiver, allowing Smith width and depth to create Steward’s early score.
Taking Farrell’s pass, Smith popped a perfectly weighted pass into a hole for the full-back, whose fine line and swerve took him under the posts.
Smith and Farrell weaved a similar pattern shortly afterwards, with Henry Slade and Jonny May unable to make the opening count.
As the game lost its rhythm and broken-field chances dried up, he could not add to that highlight reel as a couple of grubbers failed to quite find their man.
But Smith steered England home in a cagey last 20 minutes and shrugged off a couple of big hits, most notably from Hunter Paisami. That aspect may impress Jones as much as any.
In the build-up to the game, Jones had made light of his decision to deploy Manu Tuilagi, usually a midfield battering ram, on the wing.
Jones promised his backline would play as an ‘ensemble’, shifting positions to suit situations. The free-form theory did not always work out as slickly in practice, but for the most part the experiment was a success.
Tuilagi was a constant carrying menace as he came inside and looked for work and was never exposed by pace out wide or under the high ball.
Farrell swapped roles with Smith to keep the Aussies guessing, while Steward, excellent under the high ball, tightened his grip on the 15 shirt with a superb all-round performance.
The meeting with South Africa next weekend, the first since England’s defeat in the 2019 World Cup final, might call for a more traditional shape, with the Springboks expert in the aerial game.