Passing the test
Phil Edwards reckons spirit and a focus on youth were key to England's stunning victory in Australia.
Last Updated: 23/06/10 10:41am
It's difficult to overstate the importance of one massive Test victory.
The win in Sydney made safe, for the time being at least, the careers of a number of people in the England set-up who were clearly fearful about getting cast aside once the bones of this tour had been picked over by the men in blazers at the RFU - and that goes for some of the players as well.
I was fortunate enough to have been on the touchline in the Olympic Stadium at the final whistle and was blown away by the outpouring of raw emotion all around me. John Wells and Mike Ford embraced each other for what seemed like two minutes, the former picking the latter clean up off his feet. There were high-fives and handshakes among the trainers and physios as the achievement began to sink in.
Then, for the first time in my case, we got permission to film inside the England dressing room. As you can imagine, the boys were on a massive high and all wanted their pictures taken by stills photographer Dave Rogers, who'd also been given the nod from Johnno to enter the team's inner sanctum.
England's Test players had turned in their best performance of the entire season (regardless of what Steve Borthwick might tell you), confounded their detractors, and notched up only their third ever win against the Wallabies in Australia. It wasn't just those players hoping to make the cut when Martin Johnson names his new Elite Player Squad who were mighty relieved, so too were the coaches and the rest of the backroom staff.
Judging by their body language as they headed into the Sydney Test, some of them reckoned it was chucking out time in the last chance saloon; a few hours later it would have been more like a lock-in at their favourite local as they toasted a victory which might just act as a timely springboard with a World Cup fast approaching.
I accept that not everyone will be quite so cork-poppingly optimistic. After all, as some have said, if you can't beat an Australian side when they haven't got a front-row worthy of the name, then when can you beat them? Fair point, but England's edge up front wasn't the only reason they won.
They also did a job on Quade Cooper and outplayed a formidable back-row combination. I thought Tom Croft was immense, while Nick Easter recovered from a shocking first few minutes to have one of his best games in an England shirt.
Lewis Moody led by example, having clattered himself so severely at one point that he didn't know where he was or what he did for a living. Somehow, though, he knew he needed to fall into the ranks of white-shirted players and then launch himself horizontally at anyone wearing green and gold. The story has it, incidentally, that when he stood up to make his speech during the formalities in Paris following the last match of the Six Nations, the rest of the team began a chant of "Moodos, Moodos" under their breaths. That, to me, speaks volumes.
Coming of age
All in all then, I reckon this tour has been incredibly fruitful for Martin Johnson. Not only did he beat Australia at the scene of his, and England's, finest hour, he also saw some the youngest players in his squad come of age. The likes of Ben Youngs, Courtney Lawes, Chris Ashton and Ben Foden all saw their stock rise in a side whose average age (until Simon Shaw joined them from the bench) was probably lower than at any time in the modern era.
Dave Attwood also caught the eye in the midweek team, and his partnership in the engine room with Geoff Parling could be the way forward. The jury is still out on some positions (10, 12 and 13 spring to mind) but on the whole the verdict is encouraging.
It's strange to think that just a few days ago some of us media types were asking ourselves, over a cleansing ale or six, which was the more likely of the following scenarios: that Johnson was going to be sacked by the RFU; that he was going to decide he didn't fancy the job after all and quit; or that he would resign on a matter of principle if most of his coaching staff got the bullet. As I was saying, it's amazing what a difference a win can make.