1. Australia solid in victory, without being spectacular
The victory was set up by first-half tries to Matt Gillett and hometown hero Billy Slater, before a penalty goal to another local hero in the skipper Cameron Smith, and a 78th-minute runaway try to Josh Dugan. It took 23 minutes for the Aussies to breach the English try-line despite the abundance of opportunities presented to them. This came after England surprisingly claimed the lead in the 5th minute.
Moreover, similar to their opponents, the Aussies were guilty of overplaying their hand. Had it not been for last-ditch defence of their own in the second half, the English could have easily levelled, with the match delicately poised at 10-4, or even hit the lead.
However, given it has been at least a month since most of the Kangaroos have played competitive football, it is perhaps understandable that they were rusty. This is coupled by the fact that it is the first genuine hit-out for the new combinations.
2. England gallant in defeat in tournament opener
The 18-4 scoreline did not reflect the closeness of the match. Against the odds, the English were able to open the scoring after 5 minutes, courtesy of a try to Jermaine McGillvary. For the remainder of the first-half, they were forced into a mountain of defensive work. Considering this was the case, it is quite remarkable that they were only trailing 10-4 at the interval.
Although they started the second half poorly courtesy of being unable to defuse an Aussie bomb, they conceded no further points until the final 5 minutes. During the second half, they created numerous chances for themselves while playing some ad-lib football. They also repelled numerous attacks by the Kangaroos.
There was a multitude to like about England’s performance, and if they make the relevant improvements, they could find themselves in Brisbane for the final.
3. Slater turns back time
One of the main reasons for the victory by the Aussies over the old foe is due to the sensational performance of the fullback, Billy Slater. Playing in front of his home crowd in Melbourne, Slater turned in a performance which belied his age of 34, playing as though he was 24 years old.
As well as making 13 tackle breaks, 2 line breaks and 200 metres for the match, thereby posing a threat whenever in possession, Slater appeared everywhere to diffuse the threats presented by the English. He was duly rewarded with a try and man of the match honours.
This is quite the remarkable return to test footy for the man they call “Billy the Kid”, considering his 3-year absence from the test arena.
4. England lacked the cutting edge to win match
Although the English were gallant in defeat, the match also showed some of their glaring weaknesses. One such weakness is their inability to capitalise on the opportunities presented to them. Against a team such as Australia, any opportunities must be capitalised on, as they can easily punish anyone who fails to do so.
Moreover, although the statistics depict that errors, penalties conceded and missed tackles were rather close, England was on the wrong end of these stats. In the first half, they were forced into a multitude of defence. Some of this was due to their own errors and the Kangaroos duly scored a couple of tries as a result. In addition, there were a few fundamental errors made in the second half, which presented the Aussies with the opportunities to post points. Only last-ditch defence prevented this from happening.
5. Injury to Sam Burgess a concern for England
Compounding the loss for England is the injury to their star back-rower, Sam Burgess. The injury occurred because of his knee being twisted awkwardly in a tackle in the 35th minute. Post-game reports from the England camp suggest it is damage to his medial ligament, meaning he could be out for 3-4 weeks.
Moreover, it means that Burgess may not play again unless England progress to the final. Although the English still possess a formidable forward pack, his loss will undoubtedly leave a hole which will not be easy to fill.
6. Both teams will be better for the run
Now that the opening match is over, both the Aussies and the English have been able to determine which areas require improvement and where the strengths in each team lie. Moreover, it was an opportunity for both teams (especially the NRL players) to shake off the rustiness, given it had been at least a month since they played a competitive match. As such, there is minimal doubt that there can only be improvements going forward.
For Australia, they can fix up the defence on left edge, where the English scored their try. As well as that, they can work on their execution in attack, to ensure that they can make their possession count. However, the Aussies only need to look back at their most recent World Cup in 2013, where they overcame England 28-20 in their opening match. They would then embark on a remarkable run en route to claiming the World Cup, conceding zero tries in the process.
For England, there was an abundance to admire about their performance in this match. Unlike previous English teams, this performance depicts that they are made of much sterner stuff. If they consolidate on this performance and make the required improvements, there is no reason why they won’t be there in Brisbane for the final, despite the loss of Burgess to injury.
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