Stripped to the waist, amidst the maelstrom that was Melbourne’s AAMI Park, Dan Cole stood oozing Englishness. Having been de-robed with comical ease whilst attending one of the many scraps that broke out in the second test between Australia and England, the Leicester Tigers’ prop forward walked away from the fracas, his head nodding with the nonchalance of a man happy with his work. His pink and blotchy chest, surprisingly hair free, heaved full-bloodied Anglo Saxon breaths; he looked a bull-mastiff and burberry cap short of a Shane Meadows’ directed cameo. If ever you needed a moment to encapsulate how England were going about their tour ‘Down Under’, this was it. Cole’s semi-clad torso seemed to suggest that yes, it was tough, but nothing he couldn’t handle.
And if you wanted another example of just how well Saturday morning was going for Jones’ tourists, examine the run of events following Owen Farrell’s shoulder-barge on Bernard Foley as they chased an up and under. In stepped gorgeous assistant referee Nigel Owens and asked our Craig to have a look-see at the big screen, insinuating to Joubert that the Englishman had been the aggressor. The referee studied the evidence, tracking instead the line of the Australian outside half and found Foley at fault, handing England and Farrell a kickable penalty. Stephen Moore, the home skipper, backed away in disbelief and the more eagle-eyed of us thought we saw Joubert mouth something about Scotland and the World Cup.
Should the Melbourne crowd have needed any metaphors for just how difficult this was becoming for their beloved Green & Golds, the ground started to slip from beneath their feet. Huge toupees of turf curled backwards as scrums were contested and at one such coming together, Michael Hooper chucked some of the revealed sand at James Haskell’s face and missed, completely. These convicts couldn’t get anything right. Michael Cheika looked on forlornly, wondering if he really was the best coach in the world like Uncle Eddie had said.
And then, after enough defensive phases to keep Paul Gustard erect for days, up stepped Jamie George. Replacing the indomitable Hartley, the young Saracen found the ball being thrust back towards him by a prone Courtney Lawes. He gathered it and, as if enthused by the retiring spirit of Barnet teammate Charlie Hodgson, he decided to try out his grubber technique. His kick surged clear and it was Farrell who made the most of a lack of Wallaby fullback, pouncing on the bouncing ball to claim the series win. We all leaned slowly back into our sofas and incredulous expletives were ushered in unison. England were like really, really good.
But there’s a question in sport that asks not how good your first team is, it’s really about your second string. Think about the times you’ve marvelled about the chap unable to get in the All Blacks’ side. The Saxons chalked up a series win of their own on Friday night. Once again Hepher’s herd won in South Africa, but rather than the counter attacking brilliance of last week, they orchestrated themselves cleverly around the park, failing to panic despite a strong ‘Bok ‘A’ lead. The Saxon tackle count went through the roof and as Christian Wade slid into the corner and Danny Cipriati hit a touchline conversion, no Englishman had had more fun in George since Wham were top of the pops.
Earlier on Saturday morning, Wales had given New Zealand a good go but once again had come up short. The Kiwis scored first; Israel Dagg, sporting the sort of moustache that would interest Operation Yew Tree, gave the home side a deserved lead. Then Aaron Cruden suffered a nasty-looking neck injury after a seemingly innocuous challenge and after a long break and the fly half’s removal from the field, AW Jones scored to make it ten apiece as the teams headed down the tunnel.
But Wales are not England and New Zealand are not Australia and despite a Faletau opportunity, the hosts blistered away. Beauden Barrett had Mourad Boudjellal picking up his mobile phone once more and when Ardie Savea crossed, Wales looked set for a spanking. Enter Jonathan Fox Davies for his Twitter retweet moment. A huge hand off the size of Cardiff itself put Savea on his back and reclaimed a huge amount of Welsh pride (two late tries also helped); Gatland’s men had refused to go quietly into the All Black night.
Later on that afternoon, normality would also be restored in the emerald isle as Joe Schmidt’s men would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at Ellis Park. By half time, Ireland had a handsome lead and the Johannesburg fans were booing and jeering the Springboks from the field. You did wonder if Ireland could do it again but somehow, perhaps inspired by their opponents’ resolve a week previous, the South Africans found some second half gears. Pieter-Steph du Toit showed tremendous strength to get himself under the posts and suddenly you felt it was possible. De Allende scampered though some weak Irish tackling and Ireland were being inexorably rolled over. It is all set for a clincher at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium next week.
Always good to keep these three game test series interesting. Perhaps Wales and England could learn a thing or two.