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Wallabies devour undercooked England

Tom Fordyce | 21:15 GMT, Saturday, 15 November 2008

There's nothing an Australian likes more than making an Englishman eat humble pie, and in west London on Saturday there were some pretty big slices being handed out.

All the talk in the build-up was about what Andrew Sheridan might do to his opposite number Al Baxter, about the nightmares the Wallabies pack must be having after the mashing in Marseille last October and the toasting at Twickenham in 2005.

Around the burger bars and picnic-hampers at lunchtime, the dank November air was thick with giddy chat of England's expansive, new-look back line.

What Australia had cooking, however, caught everyone by surprise. This was a deserved victory, the ingredients the exact ones England had been planning to throw into the mix.

Three little moments summed it all up.

First Baxter, humiliated here three years ago, shoved Sheridan into shipping a penalty from which Australia re-took the lead at 15-14.

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Then Sheridan, who in that match had famously seen off both Baxter and his replacement Matt Dunning, limped from the field, unable to carry on.

Finally, with eight minutes left, Danny Cipriani also trudged off, his chin on his chest, having been given an old-school lesson in fly-half play by the ruthless Matt Giteau.

It wasn't the recipe England manager Martin Johnson had wanted his team to follow. But as he said afterwards: "We wanted to stick it to them - but if you don't have the ball, you can't do that.

This Wallaby pack has been transformed by forwards coach Michael Foley. England complained afterwards that the constant re-sets called for by referee Marius Jonker upset their rhythm and made the set-piece too messy, but one team dealt with that and the other didn't.

It's not often that hookers win the man-of-the-match award, but Stephen Moore bagged it for a reason.

For Cipriani, two wonderful ghosting breaks could not disguise the gap that still exists between him and the very best in the world.

In some ways that's to be expected. This was only his fifth England appearance; Giteau made his debut at this ground in the corresponding fixture six years ago and has 58 more internationals under his belt.

What will hurt the tyro is that a few of his mistakes were of the relatively basic nature. His kicking was ragged throughout, a missed conversion and horribly mis-hit drop-goal attempt the most glaring. Giteau, by contrast, nailed six of his seven penalty pots.

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Afterwards the normal Cipriani ebullience was noticeably absent, replaced by a sombre summation of his own shortcomings.

"I did some good things but I did some things that were inconsistent," he said. "The losing factor wasn't something I enjoyed, but I learned a lot today. Hopefully next time I won't make the same mistakes."

He wasn't alone. England went off-menu far too many times, ignoring Johnson's instructions to keep their discipline, conceding needless penalties from the third minute to the last.

"We didn't make them play hard enough to score 28 points," said Johnson, his glower enough to peel paint at 20 feet.

"Sometimes you're under pressure and you give penalties away. But they had slow ball and we still gave penalties away. We lost a game by 14 points that we should have been in till the end."

Where Australia made the most of every opportunity they had, England's solitary try was meagre reward for the minutes camped close to the visitors' line.

At times it was like Marseille in reverse - a blanket Aussie defence soaking up almost anything thrown at them, an English team undone by the dead-eye kicking of a fly-half unhurried and unflustered by the weight of the occasion.

Of the much-vaunted back three, Delon Armitage deserves the best reviews - rock-solid under the high ball, resolute in defence (witness the try-saving tackle on Ryan Cross after Stirling Mortlock had smashed past Riki Flutey) and confident enough to wobble a skimmer of a drop-goal between the posts from distance.

But too often England failed to bring their fliers into play. Sniping off the fringes can serve you well sometimes, but when George Smith is this hungry, he'll munch that sort of thing up all day long.

"Sometimes we needed to pull the trigger earlier," admitted Johnson. "There were opportunities out there for us to create pressure and try-scoring chances, and we either didn't see them or didn't exploit them."

The last word, fittingly, was dished out by Baxter.

He has relished the spotlight all week, admitting quite cheerfully that he's never had this kind of attention before.

"It's great to play in a country that looks at the set-piece and talks about it and analyses it," he said, with only a hint of a smile on his face.

"We're always going to be very disappointed about our loss in Marseille, and that's never going to change.

"You can never compensate for a game in the past because it's gone, but a win at Twickenham is always high on your list.

"Robbie (Deans, Wallabies coach) is very big on focusing on what's ahead of you rather than what's in the past. We're a new side, and we're looking to the future."

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