By Mitch Phillips
OITA, Japan (Reuters) – England scrumhalf Ben Youngs said Saturday’s victory over Australia showed how the team have developed their resilience and ability to remain calm under pressure after being questioned over those areas during past setbacks.
England withstood a furious early assault from Australia to ease to a 17-9 halftime lead. They had to repel them again when they closed to within a point early in the second half and again later when the Wallabies pressured their line with a series of scrums around the hour-mark.
They weathered those storms superbly then hit back to eventually run out impressive 40-16 winners and set up a semi-final with New Zealand.
“There have been times (in other games) where we have been a bit under the cosh and allowed cheap points and against Australia I thought the work we had done in the pre-season paid off,” Youngs said.
“We don’t get that much time together normally, but the World Cup is different with a huge period together and you are able to create bonds and invest more time in each other and when it gets tough you can trust each other because you have that club feel.
“That showed when they were challenging our line and coming and coming. I thought that was a tremendous defensive effort.”
England’s most spectacular implosion was when they led Scotland 31-0 late in the first half at Twickenham in this year’s Six Nations, then conceded 38 points, before snatching a 38-all draw.
Despite regular huddles after every Scottish try, England’s players seemed incapable of holding on to the ball and questions were asked of captain Owen Farrell’s leadership.
On Saturday, however, they remained calm and, crucially, struck back quickly after Marika Koroibete’s try had made it a one-point game, as Kyle Sinckler blasted over two minutes later to give them breathing space.
“Some of the guys would have rather the game not to have got that tight, Australia were going to chuck the kitchen sink at us and the way they play they are always going to create opportunities,” Youngs said.
“They did that but the pleasing thing is that we stuck to the way we wanted to play and no one went off-script. No one tried to solve it on their own and we eventually ground them down.”
Impressive as England were, they know they will have to be even better against the All Blacks, who were devastating in their 46-14 thrashing of Ireland.
England have beaten them only once in the last 16 meetings – at Twickenham in 2012.
“There is definitely more in us and at times we feel we can take it up a notch,” Youngs said.
“The exciting thing for me is that I know there is more to come from the team and that’s great. Our defensive edge was a bit vulnerable at times and a little bit soft and we will tidy that up.
“We can’t be happy with today because that won’t be good enough next weekend.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ian Ransom)