The Wallabies are “remaining competitive” despite falling to their eighth loss of the season and their sixth under Ewen McKenzie, the Australia coach said.
After two encouraging performances against Argentina and New Zealand in recent weeks, the 20-13 defeat at Twickenham brought optimism about the team’s development to a screeching halt.
The seven- and three-try attacking showcases from Rosario and Dunedin were replaced by one try and a scoreless second half in London. Hopes of a grand slam evaporated before the spring tour cranked into gear.
Walking wounded: Adam Ashley-Cooper, flanked by Wallabies teammate Stephen Moore, bears the scars of battle. Photo: Getty Images
Asked whether the loss was a step backwards after the gains of recent Tests, McKenzie said the team needed to handle critical moments better.
“In terms of [going] backwards, people will judge that, but I think we’re remaining competitive,” he said.
“We’re not getting the scoreboard right but we’re remaining competitive. It could have been a win, it could have been a draw, it could have been a loss.
Speed machine: England winger Marland Yarde gives Wallabies halfback Will Genia the slip at Twickenham. Photo: David Cannon
“We’re not miles away but we’ve got to handle three or four moments better, that’s what it gets down to. That requires 80 minutes of concentration and 80 minutes of effort across 23 players.”
The second-half shutdown, in which England scored two, admittedly controversial, tries, was a particular lowlight.
McKenzie has worked hard to get the best out of his bench and did not expect their response to heavy pressure from England.
“I was quite pleased at half-time because we really had to fight against the tide of the game. I thought we’d set it up all right for the second half but you go down a couple of critical moments [and it’s over],” he said.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t get [impact] through the game. I thought we had a strong pack to finish the game. There were bright individual moments but as a collective we didn’t handle that last period.”
The squad flew to Turin on Sunday and begin a week of preparing under pressure.
There are no easy games ahead. Italy tested Australia in Florence last year and will be keen to exploit the many vulnerabilities on show in London.
“There’s always going to be a loser on the day so you have to dust yourself off and get going,” McKenzie said.
“That’s the life we’ve chosen. The games come pretty fast, you have to get out there and get on with things. You can’t sit and mope; you’ve got to get on and make adjustments.”
Scott Fardy is under a cloud for this weekend. The breakaway was stretchered off the field after being knocked out in a tackle on England fullback Mike Brown in the 50th minute and will be subject to concussion protocols.
Second-rower James Horwill responded to his demotion from the captaincy with a more physical performance.
“I thought he was more vigorous for sure,” McKenzie said. “He was in the thick of things. He won half a dozen lineouts and was involved in the game.”
Five-eighth Quade Cooper was also on song early, setting up Israel Folau’s break that led to the side’s only try of the game. But two missed shots at goal in the second half were costly.
“We were chasing the scoreboard, which we shouldn’t have been doing,” McKenzie said.
“We were a chance of being 16-6 up at one stage and we didn’t take it so we dug our own little hole there.”
The Wallabies’ defence – their Achilles at time during the Rugby Championship – held up for the most part but is still a way off perfect.
“The one thing we did well was we tackled well. They have some renowned ball carriers and I thought we handled them pretty well,” McKenzie said.