MARSEILLE (Reuters) - England’s upset quarter-final victory over Australia was the result of physical and mental courage allied to self-belief and anger borne of frustration, coach Brian Ashton and captain Phil Vickery said on Saturday.
The holders produced by far their best performance of the tournament to come through 12-10 and banish the memories of their record 36-0 humiliation by South Africa three weeks ago.
“Physical courage is a given at this level,” said Ashton.
“But you saw a group of players who showed a lot of the other sort of courage, especially in the first 20 minutes, by taking Australia on in the way I suspect that most people would have expected Australia to take us on.
By moving the ball round the field, challenging them in all sorts of ways, and then they had the game understanding later, the scrummaging and driving game, to close the game down.
“Today was a much more balanced and complete performance than any we have given before in the World Cup. I honestly thought we were the better side but it made for a nervous last 10 minutes.”
England’s scrum took hold of their Wallaby counterparts in a way rarely seen at this level and by the last 20 minutes it appeared as if packing down in the face of mighty Andrew Sheridan et al was just about the last thing the Australian forwards wanted to do.
That dominance helped earn the seven penalties that Jonny Wilkinson slotted four of in windy conditions, and, combined with an almost immeasurable increase in aggression and effectiveness at the breakdown, laid the foundations for the win.
“To say it was magnificent would probably be an understatement,” Ashton said of the forward effort.
“We knew the scrum was a key area, not just for possession but for all sorts of other reasons as well, the ability to vary lineout too was important, but one of the most pleasing improvements was contesting at the breakdowns.”
England tore into contact relentlessly, backs and forwards alike and captain Phil Vickery said there had been a lot of pent-up emotion being let loose.
“There are lots of things that went into today,” said the prop. “Ultimately we showed a belief in what we were doing and showed some good old fashioned guts to go out and put ourselves in positions where it’s going to hurt.
“It’s sport, strange things happen and you write people off at your peril. We’ve had a huge amount of criticism, some justified, the majority of it not.
“But we are all proud Englishmen who want to go out and represent our county to the highest of our ability and today was the culmination of a lot of frustration.
“To win is a huge thing but to beat Australia after all that’s gone on makes it ultra-special.”
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