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Groggy Mike Catt climbed off the floor to salvage a draw from an uninspired England display at Twickenham yesterday.

The England fly-half had a nightmare with his general kicking, but he completed a century of points with five penalties to deny two-try Australia outright victory in the Cook Cup.

His equalising kick, deep into injury time, was the most crucial of them all.

Catt had to clear his head for the job after being taken out by Aussie full-back Stephen Larkham.

England were facing defeat to tries by George Gregan and Ben Tune when Catt ran a penalty and streaked so far clear that he lost his support, and had no option but to kick over last-man Larkham.

As he did so, Larkham dropped his shoulder and laid Catt out to earn himself a yellow card.

But Catt recovered to drill his penalty through the posts.

Both he and Joe Roff had difficult chances to win the match with penalties in the dying seconds, but neither side really deserved the glory.

Catt, picked at centre but restored to fly-half when Alex King dropped out, had a good game with the ball in his hand but still kicks poorly on drop-outs and punts.

And with the pack creaking, line-out throwing sloppy and so many passes dropped, there will have to be major improvements if England are to survive the All Blacks at Old Trafford next Saturday.

It had started promisingly, and there were few traces of nerves from England's five new boys as they ran out in front of a packed 75,000 crowd which had paid a record pounds 2.1million through the gate.

But young full-back Matt Perry must have been devastated when a balmy autumn morning turned into steady rain that threatened to turn the ball into a bar of soap for his debut.

As Lawrence Dallaglio called his men around in the traditional bonding huddle, a hush descended. It was time for the talking to stop and Clive Woodward's exciting gamble to pay off.

Nine years ago, Will Carling was in exactly the same position as Dallaglio - against the same opponents.

And he launched the most successful era in English rugby with a 28-19 victory against the Old Enemy - an era that produced a World Cup final appearance, three Grand Slams and four Five Nations championships.

Dallaglio has designs on even greater glory - like the World Cup at Cardiff Arms Park in 1999 - and this game was to be an acid test.

England roared at the Aussies from the start but, in the wet conditions, Catt elected to pump the ball into the grey sky rather than bringing his exciting young backs into action.

He kicked England into a fifth-minute lead when Australia were penalised for barging at a line-out.

And they might have gone further ahead four minutes later when Catt banged another up-and-under for the Aussie midfield, but Will Greenwood and Paul Grayson - on for blood-binned Phil de Glanville - knocked on in their over-eagerness.

Garath Archer's strength helped win another penalty, but instead of settling for three points, Catt spotted the Aussies sleeping on the blind-side and ran the ball out to Adedayo Adebayo.

His Bath colleague broke through Gregan's tackle but was dragged down by Tune, and another chance went begging when Catt put his final pass too far in front of David Rees after snapping into a high kick from Perry.

But the Aussies came out of their battering to show what dangerous counter- attackers they really are.

Brilliant play by Tim Horan and Pat Howard sent Tune racing 40 yards clear, but he was chopped down by a super tackle from Perry, who had quickly won the hearts of the the home crowd.

That was the start of some spirited attacking by the visitors, but skipper John Eales missed two penalties and hooker Michael Foley had the kind of nightmare throwing-in at the line-out that would have made Mark Regan look like Eric Bristow.

It was Gregan who put the first Green and Gold points on the board in the 26th minute, when Perry sent a marked kick straight into midfield and the little scrum-half exchanged passes with Horan for a try that Eales just failed to convert.

Catt restored England's lead with a second penalty in the 31st minute from Kyran Bracken's alert break, and added a third just before half time after Howard made a mess of a simple pass then failed to release.

Eales' kicking boot was in no better shape after half-time, and he missed his fourth kick of the afternoon in the tense early exchanges.

He declined a shot at goal in the 49th minute, electing to kick for position instead, but once again the Aussies spilled the ball and lost another chance.

Catt had Woodward groaning in the stands when he set up a clear overlap for Rees but this time put the ball behind the winger - and when play was brought back for a penalty he missed it.

Tune punished that lapse on the hour, as Australia got away with a blatant forward pass and Horan skilfully put his winger in for his ninth try with a lovely inside pass.

Roff took over the kicking and safely landed the conversion for a 12- 9 lead.

But Catt drew level again with his fourth kick of the day after a razor- sharp break by Bracken.

His quick ball sent Adebayo thundering to within a yard of the line before he was pulled down illegally.

Adebayo went off in a daze to be replaced by Austin Healey, and seemed to take Catt's boots with him. The fly-half missed two chances to restore England's lead in what had become a poor quality match.

It was Australia who scored next, Roff landing a penalty from 25 yards to put his side 15-12 ahead four minutes from time - and seemingly safe until Catt stepped up.

Perry 8, Rees 6, Greenwood 7, De Glanville 7, Adebayo 6, Catt 6, Bracken 7, Leonard 6, Long 5 (Cockerill 6), Green 5, Johnson 6, Archer 7, Dallaglio 7, Hill 5, Diprose 5.

Pens: Catt (5)

Larkham 6, Tune 7, Horan 7, Howard 6, Roff 6, Flatley 5, Gregan 7, Harry 6, Foley 5, Blades 6, Langford 6, Eales 5, Finegan 6, Robinson 5 (Wilson 6), Ofahengaue 7.

Tries: Gregan, Tune; Con: Roff; Pen: Roff
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Price, Colin
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 16, 1997
Previous Article:We must improve.
Next Article:CLOUT OF AFRICA!; Falcon's goal is World Cup finals.

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