England were toppled 30-28 by Australia in their first Test in Perth, but the scoreline masks a myriad of shortcomings from Eddie Jones’ tourists as they fell to a fourth successive defeat.
Here, the PA news agency examines five talking points arising from the series opener.
Henry Arundell’s stunning seven-minute cameo that conjured two late tries failed to mask the reality that England were conclusively beaten by 14-man opposition which also lost three players to injury inside the first half hour. They trailed by the insurmountable deficit of 30-14 until Arundell began to weave his spell on Australia’s defence, placing the spotlight on to Eddie Jones yet again. England’s head coach has asked for patience, most notably over an impotent attack that functions sporadically and is wasteful, but with recent results compounded by the team looking a disjointed mess in the final 20 minutes at Optus Stadium, patience continues to ebb away.
It is still early days, but the creative axis formed by Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith is misfiring. The moments of promise evident against the Wallabies in the autumn vanished in Perth where the twin playmakers operated on different wavelengths. England have moved away from a kick-heavy strategy in favour of building their attack through phases, but it remains to be seen if Farrell and Smith are the right fit to execute the gameplan and Jones may soon be forced to choose one of them at fly-half and discard the other.
As Samu Kerevi’s hard-running performance at Optus Stadium was acknowledged with the man of the match award, it once again highlighted the gaping hole left in England’s midfield by the absence of another wrecking ball of Islander heritage. Injury after injury has robbed Jones of his most potent strike weapon and the aim of using wing Joe Cokanasiga to make up for the power deficit was limited by the Anglo-Fijian’s inability to impose himself. The failure to produce an effective carrier at 12 beyond Manu Tuilagi is a mystery of the English game. Meanwhile, Kerevi will undoubtedly be a highly influential figure in the series.
It may only have given a heavy defeat an undeserved sheen, but Arundell’s spectacular late intervention was thrilling. Continuing the fireworks he has produced for London Irish and England Under-20s in his debut season, the 19-year-old stepped off the bench to tear apart the Wallabies defence through his pace, power and footwork to cross once himself and contribute to another one. Jones must decide whether to start a player he has compared to Australia great David Campese in the second Test in the knowledge that his skills transfer to the highest level.
Even if Australia go on to lose the series, they will at least no longer have to field questions on why England have “got the wood on them”, to use a phrase regularly heard Down Under this week. The Wallabies’ eight-Test losing run at the hands of their former head coach is finally over and a rivalry that was in danger losing its competitive edge has exploded back into life. Australia matched resilience with a clinical touch in attack to give the ailing game on these shores a crucial shot in the arm and they stand one win away from a series victory.