England had their worst nightmare come true after Australia inflicted a heavy 33-13 defeat onto the Rugby World Cup hosts on Saturday, to all but end their hopes of progressing past the pool stages.
Two converted tries and four penalties by Australian fly half Bernard Foley, coupled with the double-teaming backrow partnership of David Pocock and Michael Hooper, ensured England became the first tournament hosts not to make it to the quarter-finals.
England’s loss was far from inevitable, and though they trailed 20-3 at halftime, Stuart Lancaster’s side kept themselves in contention through Owen Farrell’s kicking game and a late try by Anthony Watson.
The deficit had been reduced to only seven points with 20 minutes left to play, but as was the case in England’s loss against Wales, the hosts’ loss of composure in the last quarter meant Farrell was carded, and Foley kicked Australia home with the penalty.
“During the last three years we’ve put in some pretty good performances, but on the day Australia were better,” Lancaster said at a press conference.
“But there are some good players in this squad and I hope the nation stays behind them. Will I be staying behind them as their coach? It’s not for me to say. I’ve just got to get them ready for next week.”
Australia were assertive from the outset and looked to claim an early try through Israel Folau, but his effort was denied by Mike Brown who climbed well to prevent a disaster within the first seven minutes.
The Wallabies’ continued pressure paid off, however, and an England infringement gave Foley the chance to kick three points from the tee, his first of 28 points he chalked up during the match.
England were rattled and though Farrell kicked a penalty of his own to equalize, the frustration turned into indiscipline as three missed tackles saw Foley cruise through to claim the first try, which he also converted.
Foley was back minutes later to claim his seventh international test try and a halftime 17-3 lead, while the Television Match Official (TMO) could not bring England any good news when it was announced there had been no forward pass from Beale.
England returned from the break determined to string-out a win, and unfazed by another kick by Foley, sent Watson over the line to a momentous roar from the 81,080 crowd, as they gave themselves a lifeline at what was the critical juncture.
Farrell then put England to within a converted try from victory with a successful penalty kick, but all his good work was undone when he was sin-binned for a heavy tackle on Matt Giteau.
Foley obliged with the penalty, but down to 14 men, England could barely hold off a ferocious attack by Folau, let alone another kick by Foley and then a more organised assault by Giteau, who celebrated mid-air as he crossed over the line.
Foley rounded off his one-man show and condemned England to defeat with an easy conversion as match referee Romain Poite blew for time. England’s indignity was only compounded by the somewhat surprising decision to award Man of Match to Joe Launchbury.