TOKYO, 19 Oct – England produced a masterclass in taking their opportunities as they marched into the semi-finals.
Eddie Jones's men did not dominate any of the statistics that usually determine the winning side. They made more than twice as many tackles as Australia, and fewer than half the metres of the Wallabies, but they still came out on top.
A big reason for that was their ability to capitalise on their opponents’ mistakes. England scored 31 points from seven visits to the Australian 22 – that is an exceptional conversion rate. Making mistakes is fine when the opposition cannot score from them. That was not the case for Australia.
There were two tries that halted Australian progress and gave England the victory. The first was the second try for Jonny May, see video below. That came just two minutes after his, and England’s, first score. Australia were attacking and a try for them would have put them back in the lead. David Pocock received the ball under pressure and tried to offload to Christian Lealiifano, but the pass went awry and was intercepted by Henry Slade.
The England centre spotted he had nobody in front of him and charged down the pitch. The combination of Marika Koroibete and Kurtley Beale would have caught him, but he had support from May. The winger was communicating as he was chasing so Slade knew exactly when and where May wanted the ball. Both defenders were pulled towards Slade and a deft grubber towards the sideline allowed May to collect the ball in space.
Australia later closed to within a single point early in the second half, and England were in danger of being reeled in. That resistance was ended by a Kyle Sinckler try on 46 minutes.
Flat passes close to the defensive line are high risk. They are dangerous because they can be intercepted by nearby defenders. The benefits are they force the defence to show how they want to defend.
England have five options at the start of this video, below. Owen Farrell can carry, he can pass to Maro Itoje or Mako Vunipola, he can pass out the back to Manu Tuilagi or he can fizz a brilliant pass to Sinckler. Australia had to defend all five possibilities, and he chose the last option. Once Farrell got to the defensive line, the Australia pairing of Tolu Latu and Lealiifano split. Latu was defending Vunipola and Lealiifano was picking up Sinckler.
The fly-half thought Sinckler, above, was no longer an option so he drifted to the outside defenders. Latu had to bite in to defend Vunipola, an easier pass for Farrell. Farrell saw that in a split second and hit the wide-open Sinckler. The defenders parted in front of him and the prop will have known as soon as he got the ball he would score. That was quite some way to claim your first try in international rugby.
Australia had moments in Oita where they looked like the better team. Unfortunately for them any momentum they generated was almost immediately crushed by an English score.
Whoever England face in the semi-finals will know they can dominate possession and the statistics, but England can still emerge as the winners.