England 30-6 Australia: Controversy, rancour and a home win - what more can you ask for?
That's the thing about England v Australia sporting contests. If only there was a bit more bite. More niggle. A little more controversy and rancour.
Last week it was Eddie Jones caught swearing in the stands as England stuttered past Argentina. This time it was the turn of Wallabies' coach Michael Cheika to fume and rage and make lip-readers watching on television cover their eyes and blush.
If the forthcoming Ashes have half as much drama as England's 30-6 win over Australia at Twickenham on Saturday, there will be all-nighters pulled across the country.
It wasn't always pretty. It was messy and frequently interrupted and filled with knock-ons and forward passes and frantic improvisations, not all of them inspired.
It was also a thriller, and far closer than the final scoreline made it appear. England scored 17 points in the last eight minutes, 10 in the last two. With 10 minutes to go it seemed that the game would be level at 13 points apiece, only for the last of at least five contentious decisions to go against the men in gold and green.
Cheika tried his best afterwards to stick to the national stereotype. Whingeing is for Poms, even if winning is too; this is now five wins in a row for Jones over his old Randwick team-mate.
"I'm not really ranking them - they're not the Academy awards," Cheika said, through gritted teeth, when asked which of the controversial calls had most infuriated him.
They came fast and they came repeatedly. The first was when his skipper Michael Hooper dived on Marika Koroibete's toe-poke to score what looked like the contest's opening try, only for the television match official to rule that he had been offside from Tevita Kuridrani's initial kick through.
"It was no offside," Hooper insisted afterwards. "I thought I worked back, hands in the air, until Marika put me on.
"He's kicked the ball and I'm in an onside position. I don't know what I'm meant to do when the kick's put through - it's hard when you're going full pace to just pull up stumps."
There are no neutrals in England v Australia matches. If there were, they may have sided with referee Ben O'Keeffe, younger than several players on the pitch at 28 and thrown into the sort of scrap that might shake the nerves of a man with 10 years more experience.
O'Keeffe was right to send it to TMO Simon McDowell. McDowell was probably right to rule it offside, just as O'Keeffe was justified in sending Hooper to the sin-bin 15 minutes later after persistent infringements as England drove for the line. "A couple in a row, and I was the bad boy," admitted Hooper, with the shrug of a man who has now been yellow-carded more than any other international in history.
Cheika could also have few complaints when O'Keefe reduced his side to 13 men by sending full-back Kurtley Beale to the bin too, just before half-time, for a knock-on that looked deliberate to all but the one-eyed or close-eyed.
Then came England's first try, and a punt ahead from Elliot Daly either just before the ball bobbled onto the left-hand touchline or just after, depending on your view and nationality.
One frame on the replay appeared to suggest an end of the ball had touched the whitewash. Another, from a little wider, indicated a few blades of green grass in between. Blown up, the image became clearer. Try, room for disappointment but not complaint.
Where Cheika's anger may have been justified was in the 70th minute, the match still swinging at 13-6, when winger Koroibete's scything break and interchange with Bernard Foley sent him rolling through Chris Robshaw's desperate cover tackle and over the England line.
O'Keeffe initially sent it upstairs to check if Robshaw had prevented the ball being grounded. What McDowell then spotted was that replacement hooker Stephen Moore may have obstructed Robshaw as the tackle came in.
It took an age for him to decide. When he did, he ruled against Moore. And in that, Cheika may well have had a point.
"It's pretty obvious for Marika's try that all the England players were offside," he said, finally letting off the handbrake.
"I'm not sure who the TMO was - maybe I should have found out. I'm just not sure about the process. How many replays for one incident and how many for another? He probably makes his own mind up."
There were others. A martinet of an official may have decided not to stop at penalties when Maro Itoje knocked the ball from Will Genia's hands as a Wallaby driving maul made progress, or when Robshaw put in a late hit on Beale.
Jones, a characteristic grin on his face where seven days before there had been smoke coming from his ears, was all innocent surprise when questioned about the rub of the green in his post-match press conference.
"Why do we have refs? Why do we have TMOs? How are we lucky? You're saying we're lucky because the decisions went our way? I'm sorry, mate…
"I didn't throw a pen today, I didn't swear. I thought I'd even it out with the other box. My mother will be pleased - I don't expect a call at 5 o'clock tomorrow this time."
The truth, once the incessant evening rain eventually took the heat out of it, was that England's win was deserved. Had Kuridrani held on to Samu Kerevi's offload after his midfield partner had slalomed through England's defence, Ben Youngs could not have put in the clearing kick that Daly chased on for his try.
Foley lost at least two promising positions with forward passes. Opposite number Owen Farrell found far greater control in the filthy conditions. England's bench, as so often during Jones' regime, overpowered Cheika's weary defence, Danny Care spotting the gaping holes behind the line and exploiting them beautifully.
"We're doing all we can to become a team and a nation that plays rugby with no excuses, so we can let that echo down through all our footy," said Cheika, with visible effort, when asked if he had exchanged words with a supporter in the stands.
"This is what rugby has come down to, talking about that? There's plenty of fans giving me a gobful, and that's not pleasant.
"You're not real happy when you're team goes down to 13. Yeah. Whatever. It's totally normal to get angry but you have to clear your head straight away.
"That's my own way of dealing with stuff. I like to get it out and then get on with managing it. It's not like it's affecting anyone else."
Twickenham, so enervated by England's display against the Pumas, was rocking at the end like it seldom does. This was less about the continuation of the fine run under Jones - 21 wins now from 22 games, 12 victories on the spin at home - and more about this single contest, which is exactly how this oldest of rivalries should be.
The only thing Jones got wrong was in his response to his run of victories over Cheika.
"The only time I've ever seen 5-0 before was the Ashes in 1970-71," he beamed.
That series actually ended 2-0 to England. His adopted nation's supporters will forgive him that, just as they would bite an Australian hand off for the same result down under this winter, niggle or not.
|Autumn internationals 2017|
|11 Nov||Beat Argentina 21-8||Lost to Australia 21-29||Beat Samoa 44-38||Beat South Africa 38-3|
|18 Nov||Beat Australia 30-6||Beat Georgia 13-6||Lost to New Zealand 17-22||Beat Fiji 23-20|
|25 Nov||v Samoa||v New Zealand||v Australia||v Argentina|
|2 Dec||v South Africa|