England won the Cook Cup thanks to a scrappy win over the Wallabies and, in so doing, proved that it is better to be lucky than good.
With a lead of seven points and looking in control of events, the Australian centre Matt Toomua aimed a penalty kick into the right hand corner early in the second half and England’s outstanding full-back Mike Brown went onto tiptoes to keep the ball in play. Television replays clearly showed Brown was standing on the touchline and Australia were victims of a short-sighted linesman.
A few plays and a few minutes later England skipper Chris Robshaw scored a fortuitous try at the opposite end of the field when scrumhalf Will Genia had a clearance kick charged down. That levelled the scores, breathed some self-belief into the home team and they never looked like losing thereafter.
England will take the victory but there was little else to cheer coach Stuart Lancaster, who has one eye on the 2015 World Cup. The Wallabies are the weakest of the big three from south of the equator by a margin and this match was live up until the final whistle, with the Aussies bashing away at England’s try line inside the final five minutes.
As expected, England bossed the set scrums, although George Clancy still blows what he expects to see rather than what happens, but at least three lineout throws went awry and, for all his dynamism, Tom Youngs remains a liability. There were a host of unforced errors from the young back line with the notable exception of Brown, who was head and shoulders better than anyone else.
The game was a bizarre see-saw for England’s Owen Farrell. The young stand-off could manage no better than two kicks from five attempts in the first half, even if one of his strikes hit the post. He sat deep in the pocket and failed to make best use of the considerable talent sitting outside him.
Things improved markedly in the second half when he bounced back from the dead. Farrell kicked two out of two after the break and he popped up to score a good individual try with a little help from replacement hooker Dylan Hartley who was running shotgun.
The game was a slow burner with both kickers swapping penalties in the first half hour before the opening try went to the visitors and, not for the first time, Chris Ashton’s defensive frailties were exposed. Quade Cooper’s flat pass to Israel Folau on the angle saw the Wallaby full-back sail past England’s winger. Folau was stopped short of the line by Joel Tomkins but a few plays later Toomua ran right over the top of Billy Twelvetrees to claim the first try.
Cooper’s conversion proved to be the last Aussie points of the afternoon, the No.10 fluffed a couple of second- half penalties and, instead, England came up with two converted tries to get their season off to a winning start.