Chris Ashton did not hold back in his criticism of England’s performance after Saturday’s defeat to Australia.
The Twickenham result dealt a severe blow to England’s hopes of being top seeds for the 2015 Rugby World Cup when the draw is made in London on 3 December.
England, who will host that tournament, hung in as Australia dominated the first hour and then bossed the final quarter but could not convert pressure into points. Four times captain Chris Robshaw opted not to kick penalties, instead searching for a try that did not come.
“We had enough possession in their 22 and we just didn’t take our chances,” Ashton said. “I think the right decisions were made from those penalties. I thought we had them but we just couldn’t find that finishing pass. You have to take your chances. Our attack was better [than in last weekend’s 54-12 win over Fiji] but we are lacking that clinical edge.”
Ashton’s frustration on the field was evident – particularly when Manu Tuilagi ignored him on an overlap and ran straight into two defenders.
Tuilagi had done something similar to Charlie Sharples at the end of the first half but got away with it when he had just managed to score in the corner.
“Manu is a strong lad and he always gets over the gainline so his first instinct is to do that,” Ashton said. “Hopefully, the more I can play outside him the more he will get used to it, then he will recognise the difference between running and passing.”
Tuilagi’s try came minutes after Nick Cummins had scored his first for Australia and it gave England a 14-11 half-time lead against the run of play.
There was some debate about whether Tuilagi had actually managed to ground the ball on the whitewash as he stretched for the line but the try was given by television official Jim Yuille, who had a busy day.
Yuille was asked to adjudicate on potential tries from Wallaby prop Ben Alexander, where the pictures were inconclusive, and later from England’s Thomas Waldrom, where they were not. Both were ruled no try.
Australia turned the screw after the interval, with Barnes kicking three penalties in quick succession, and it was only when England introduced Joe Launchbury, Tom Wood and Mako Vunipola from the bench that coach Stuart Lancaster’s men built any consistent pressure.
“The intention is to bring as much energy as possible off the bench but it wasn’t enough. We felt like they were going to crack any minute, but we couldn’t finish them off,” Wood said.
England have five days until South Africa arrive at Twickenham. The weekend after that it is New Zealand. Wood insists England must draw inspiration from the Wallabies, who responded to a 33-6 defeat in France to regain the Cook Cup at Twickenham. He said: “Australia have set a precedent that, when things go wrong and you are written off, that is the way to bounce back and that is what we must try to do.”
Scorers: England: Tries: Tuilagi. Pens: Flood 3. Australia: Tries: Cummins. Pens: Barnes 4. Drop Goals: Barnes.
England: Goode, Ashton, Tuilagi, Barritt, Sharples, Flood, Care, Marler, T. Youngs, Cole, Palmer, Parling, Johnson, Robshaw, Waldrom. Replacements: Farrell for Barritt (73), Brown for Sharples (60), B. Youngs for Care (60), Vunipola for Marler (49), Paice for T. Youngs (73), Launchbury for Palmer (53), Wood for Johnson (49).
Australia: Barnes, Cummins, Ashley-Cooper, Tapuai, Ioane, Beale, Phipps, Robinson, Polota-Nau, Alexander, Timani, Sharpe, Dennis, Hooper, Palu. Replacements: Mitchell for Ioane (69), Slipper for Robinson (60), Moore for Polota-Nau (40), Kepu for Alexander (70), Gill for Dennis (55).