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ANALYSIS: ‘The silver lining is a mirage

Are you English? Do you like straws? Do you clutch them as hard as you can when times are tough? You bet you do.

Eddie Jones’ side have no choice but to go for the glass half-full rather than half-empty option. They have to believe that the stunning impact of 19 year old wunderkind, Henry Arundell, scoring with his first touch in Test rugby followed by one from another debutant, Jack van Poortvliet, gives them reason to believe for the rest of this series.

Call it burying your head in the sand. Call it ignoring the true state of affairs. Call it delusional. And it is. The silver lining is a mirage. This was a major set-back for England, a chastening defeat.

With three minutes remaining, trailing by 16 points at 30-14, England were on their backsides, humiliated on the scoreboard.

They had played what Del Boy would have called Plonker Rugby in allowing the Wallabies to somehow pick themselves off the canvas, three starters injured and Darcy Swain sent off for a headbutt moment of madness, and set up the position from where they were able to nail their first win in nine attempts against England. That’s the proper ledger of account.

England lost to Australia for the first time in seven years despite having so much in their favour, numerically, territorially, momentum-wise, all looking hunky-dory. And yet they blew it. Big time. If that were a World Cup quarter-final, England would be on the plane home. Results matter. And, after yet another feeble Six Nations, England have nothing in the bank in that regard.

The losses keep stacking up. That might be acceptable if you see yourself as a middle-ranking scuffler. Win a few, lose a few, mid-table mediocrity.

That is not England’s aspirational status. They spend the big bucks. And they have every right to expect big returns.

That is not Pommie arrogance. It’s how New Zealand, South Africa, Australia as well as, currently, France would see themselves, Ireland too, the result at Eden Park notwithstanding. It’s called being a contender.

That is the reality of a scratchy, patchy evening in Perth, a disjointed affair that will have done little to win over any neutrals who had feasted on the State of Origin in the same stadium only six days earlier.

England had stuffed up against the 14-man Barbarians prior to departure. Dave Rennie had obviously done his homework. Lose a man and England are vulnerable.

Sure, they were reduced to 14 themselves for 20 minutes with the Hair Puller Jonny Hill, and then Billy Vunipola, in the sin-bin. But the fact that once again they couldn’t take advantage of Wallaby woes shows just how brittle their confidence is.

There is so little of worth in the tank when it comes to diamond-hard self-belief. They were on top of Australia but simply could not ram home their superiority. Should they have gone for touch rather than take the three points at 11-9 early in the second-half?

(Photo by Getty Images)

A confident side would have done, no matter what the consequences might have been. Perhaps the Wallabies sensed that too.

England had a golden opportunity to put a massive dent in the Wallaby psyche. Even if they rally to come back in Brisbane and Sydney, Australia have got the monkey off their backs.

It’s a fair bet that England will improve as they head to Queensland, work on their finishing, tighten their defence, focus on the late positives of those debutants.

But so too will Australia. No team can expect to achieve anything without character within their ranks. The Wallabies showed at the Optus Stadium – and what an impressive venue that looked – that they have the Digger spirit of their forefathers.

They stuck together, did not wilt or panic and finished super-strongly with three well-deserved tries in the second-half. Michael Hooper never flagged, never gave off the wrong sort of vibes, just kept burrowing and encouraging.

Samu Kerevi did as Samu Kerevi does, blasting forward, getting his side on to the front foot. Pete Samu did a shift when he came on while Nic White was as canny as ever. The pack was right up against it after Swain’s headstrong retaliation but they know now that they have nothing to fear from England in these coming weeks. That’s a big upside for Australia.

Of course there were some plus points for England, notably Arundell at the death. Jones has to seize the moment and start with the London Irish flyer at the Suncorp.

Arundell is one for the here and now never mind the future. His arrival on the international stage is a bonus for England. There were other more substantial matters. Billy Vunipola and Danny Care both showed that they have something still to offer at this level, providing go-forward ballast in their different ways. Freddie Steward at the rear confirmed his burgeoning reputation.

The Marcus Smith-Owen Farrell axis did not make a mark despite occasional glimpses of what might be. Jones has a conundrum to solve in midfield in the absence of Manu Tuilagi. On this evidence he is no nearer to finding a solution.

It is going to be a challenging fortnight for England. The best they can aim for is a modicum of respectability were they to level the series in Brisbane and go to a decider in Sydney. That is as much as they can hope for, a slugger’s chance. It’s a get-out-of-jail possibility, no more than that.

This is happening too often for any comfort to be had at Twickenham. The stark reality, as this slipshod, underwhelming performance illustrates, is that they have lost the ability to impose themselves on an opposition.

France and New Zealand, South Africa to a lesser extent, expect to win when they take to the field. That used to be the case with England. It no longer is.

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