Australian side overcomes sluggish first half to put out victory.
A first-half purple patch that yielded three unanswered converted tries was the key to Australia’s victory over England in the World Cup opener, Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens admitted.
In the cauldron-like atmosphere of Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, where the roof was closed, England came firing out of their blocks and raced into a 10-0 lead, seeking to stamp their dominant seal back on the sport after suffering a shock final loss to New Zealand in the last World Cup in 2008.
But the Kangaroos produced the perfect riposte in the final 20 minutes of a bone-juddering first-half, playmaker Johnathan Thurston, Greg Bird and Billy Slater all crossing for tries converted by the former for a 18-10 half-time lead.
That would prove decisive as each team scored 10 points apiece in the second period as the game finished 28-20 in Australia’s favour.
“It wasn’t our best, but I won’t take away from the English performance – they came out aggressive and first appearance on our line they scored, they came out ready to play,” Sheens said.
“We had our moments but it wasn’t our best game of football, no.”
Sheens added: “England scored early against us, that probably rocked us a bit, and we tried to catch up. We had two or three fundamental errors in our own half which you just can’t afford in Test matches.
“To be fair to the guys, we pulled back and ended up leading at half-time and had a good start to the second-half, and maybe clock-watched a little at the back end.”
But with defending champions New Zealand in Pool B alongside France, Papua New Guinea and Samoa, the victory over England means the Kangaroos will likely avoid the Kiwis throughout the knock-out phases.
“We’d prefer not to play them before the end of the tournament!” joked Sheens, whose side are next up against Fiji in St Helens on November 2, with England playing remaining Pool A rivals Ireland on the same day in Huddersfield.
“Our goal now is to play really hard over the next two games to improve ourselves and not drop our intensity, and it’s easy to do that coming off a game against one of the tournament’s big three as such.”
Australian skipper Cameron Smith blamed the horror opening 20 minutes on his team-mates’ lack of game time.
“Not too many of us have played in recent weeks, England have had a couple of games, but that said, we’re the Australian side and we expect better things of ourselves,” Smith said.
“We certainly wanted to play better football than we did in that first 20 minutes.
“Everyone’s really happy with the victory but we know that we can be a better football side next week.”
England coach Steve McNamara has enjoyed a torrid build-up to the World Cup, having to axe Gareth Hock for breaching team discipline after the shock 15-14 warm-up defeat by unheralded Italy.
But he was left both frustrated with the result and pleased with some positives from the hit-out against Australia.
“We got a lot of positives from it, but there is a real sense of frustration that we didn’t quite go on and finish the job off,” McNamara said.
“I’ve always thought we have a team that is capable of potentially winning this competition if it concentrates and plays to its best, and it has to do that in every game.
“We were a bit off today. We gave far too many penalties away and gave up some field position quite easily, but every time we got to the right end of the field we seemed to trouble Australia.
“We just never gave ourselves enough chances to be at the right end of the field. In terms of being at our best, we weren’t quite there.”
England captain Kevin Sinfield dismissed the prospect of the team having to play the Kiwis should other pool matches go their way.
“Whichever route we go on in this tournament there are going to be obstacles in our way. We are ready to roll our sleeves up and work as hard as we can, and hopefully get the result next week,” Sinfield said.