Wallabies waltz to win

By Graeme Mair  

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Australia beat England 34-3 in the first Test at the Telstra Stadium in Sydney.

A solitary Olly Barkley penalty was all Andy Robinson's new-look team managed, despite enjoying some good territory and possession, particularly during the opening half-hour.

But England were their own worst enemies, gifting their hosts a continual flow of penalties, before allowing a disciplined Wallabies outfit to put some gloss on the scoreline with two late tries.

Australia's much criticised front-five held their own, and second half tries from Chris Latham, Mark Gerrard and Rodney Blake were evidence of an impressive cutting edge behind the scrum.

The first test for the Wallabies' scrum, taken apart at Twickenham last autumn, came on six minutes, and the signs were not good as prop Greg Holmes conceded a free-kick.

Both teams appeared nervous during an error-filled opening quarter, and it was the hosts who finally opened the scoring after 19 minutes when Stirling Mortlock made amends for an early miss by slotting a penalty after Lewis Moody had been penalised for failing to release the ball in the tackle.

Tom Varndell, making his first international start due to James Simpson-Daniel's injury, began shakily, dropping a high ball and twice throwing wild passes when well placed.

The Leicester wing's lack of composure cost the chance for an end-to-end try, after Mike Catt had seized the opportunity to attack from close to his own line.

Once the ball reached Varndell, England had a two-on-one overlap, but his wild pass was too high for Tom Voyce to collect, and the ball went into touch for an Australian line-out.

But four minutes later, a searing 40-metre break down the left touchline had Lote Tuqiri groping at fresh air, and showed the value of Varndell's pacy attacking threat.

England started to gain the ascendancy and were almost rewarded after half-an-hour when Iain Balshaw collected Barkley's delicate dink ahead over the try-line.

But the video referee ruled that a wonderful last-ditch tackle from George Gregan, which flipped Balshaw onto his back, had prevented him getting the ball down.

From the resulting five-metre scrum England earned a penalty, but came away with nothing as Barkley sliced the ball just to the wrong side of the left upright.

That miss signalled a shift in momentum, and Mortlock soon increased the lead to 6-0 after England infringed at the line-out.

In the final five minutes of the half Australia's backline upped the pace of the game and put England's defence under pressure.

The tourists held firm, with home centre Mat Rogers knocking on under pressure to bring an end to a flowing period of play, but the half ended with Mortlock adding another three points after England were guilty of handling in the ruck.

It was an easy kick for Mortlock from in front of the posts and extended his side's lead to 9-0 at the interval.

Barkley got England off the mark two minutes into the second half with a simple penalty after the hosts defence had strayed offside.

But the deficit was back to nine points just six minutes later when Barkley became the latest visiting player to be penalised by referee Alan Lewis for holding on in the tackle, allowing Mortlock to stroke his fourth penalty for a 12-3 advantage.

The Telstra Stadium crowd had waited patiently to witness a try, and it finally arrived after 54 minutes when full-back Latham (pictured) took advantage of some weak tackling to go in under the posts.

Australia had gone for touch after being awarded a penalty when Julian White collapsed a scrum, and their sense of adventure was rewarded.

Line-out ball was secured, and spun out to Mortlock in midfield, who released Latham on a superb line that straightened the angle of the attack and allowed him to storm past three tacklers for the score.

Mortlock added the conversion for a 19-3 lead that left Andy Robinson's men anticipating a damage limitation exercise for the final quarter.

But England regrouped well, and the backline enjoyed some promising moments in attack, although the final pass failed to go to hand.

Mortlock then put the result beyond doubt with his fifth penalty in the 68th minute to extend the Wallabies' lead to 22-3.

And the introduction of Clyde Rathbone from the bench provided a welcome boost for John Connolly's side, as his pace exposed some weary legs and created the second try of the game.

Rogers relased Rathbone with an inside ball deep in his own half, and the winger burst downfield before eventually being hauled down by Balshaw.

With England's defence out of position, Australia secured quick ball and Gerrard collected his own chip ahead and touched down.

With England now demoralised, a further try was added by prop Blake, with Mortlock's conversion giving him a personal haul of 19 points and extending the winning margin to 34-3.

The two sides meet again next Saturday when the series concludes with the second Test in Melbourne.

 

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