England rubberstamp their global credibility
Australia 40 England 44
England players, turn away now. Praise can make you weak, according to your head coach, Eddie Jones. So, a blind eye to the following dispatch. Once again you showed grit and determination, cleverness too, and heart and soul in abundance. You did not doubt and you did not shrivel. You fell behind, you came back, and you kept coming back for more. It was a stirring performance, right from the depths of your being.
It was far from perfect, flawed even, perhaps the most fallible of the series, with tackles missed and scratchy elements here and there. But you backed each other, you did not bat an eyelid when your coach yet again made a bold substitution call, replacing rookie Teimana Harrison with Courtney Lawes after just 31 minutes. You held firm, you had the faith and it all came to pass, somehow.
The reward is the first clean sweep against Australia, their first such comprehensive loss against anyone since 1971. It was a record points total, again; Owen Farrell piled up another big haul, 24 points, and it was all quite in keeping with a magnificent three weeks. Played nine, won nine under Jones, England approaching the sort of winning sequence not seen since the glory days of Clive Woodward. They arrived with promise, they leave with global credibility.
This was a Test match that refused to fade and die, the Wallabies even dotting down their last try three minutes into overtime through Taqele Naiyaravoro, to shade the try count, five to four. That is the second time in the series they have edged England on tries yet come up short on the only reckoner that matters, the scoreboard. It was not the most polished match, it was not the most measured, but it had energy and devil, and plenty of thrills and spills. This England team, though, do not know how to roll up the white flag.
It lacked shape, a tactical framework, but it never wanted for drama. England had won here in Australia only three times in history. Now they have recorded as many more across three weekends. Victory in the southern hemisphere is the barometer by which any aspiring side have to be judged. On that basis, England are in clover. The All Blacks are still ahead of them. Probably some way ahead. But England are a gathering force. Of that there is no doubt.
Farrell's boot has been as indispensable to their success as Jonny Wilkinson's was over a decade ago. You transgress at your peril. As his last effort of the night headed towards the posts in the 78th minute, the clincher, ripples of delight broke out along the England bench.
Farrell was the standout figure in England colours. Dan Cole anchored the scrum well, scoring a try himself into the bargain, the first of a madcap evening, popping over from close quarters in the 11th minute.
Billy Vunipola showed well, scoring a blasting try from the base of a scrum early in the second half, but like many on the night, fell off a couple of tackles. It says something of England's urgent will to prevail no matter the odds that the most eye-catching figures were to be found in gold, with back-rowers Michael Hooper and Sean McMahon effective, while the double act of Leicester-bound centre Matt Toomua and full-back Israel Folau threatened to wreak havoc.
There is no room for sentiment in Jones's orbit. He was obviously not happy with the ferocity and substance of England's work, and so in a repeat of the way in which he had hooked off Luther Burrell in the first Test, so did he take off Harrison in the 31st minute, Lawes coming on and Maro Itoje switching to the back row. James Haskell's physicality was missed.
Toomua made a difference. It did not take long for the Wallabies to strike back from Cole's try, a ball scooped up by Folau and Bernard Foley feeding off Toomua's inside pass to score. The second Wallaby try was not long in coming, Dane Haylett-Petty touching down in the corner. Australia had the bit between their teeth, tearing into the tackle, Scott Fardy rattling the ribs of George Ford in one big hit, and smashing England at the counter-ruck.
England needed a wake-up moment. And they got it on the half-hour mark.
George Kruis spotted Anthony Watson on the left, threw a wide pass, the wing accelerated forward and chipped Haylett-Petty. The Wallaby wing checked Watson, but Mike Brown was steaming through in support, gathered and just made it to the line. It was a terrific, morale-boosting score. Again, Farrell converted from wide out.
The see-saw nature of the game continued, Vunipola steaming over, only for Hooper to reach over the line at the other end, a score ratified by the television match official. At 25-25 and 50 minutes played, value for money.
Who would find a piece of magic or even just sustained momentum to get clear water? Australia had first crack at it, a sublime break from Toomua, through half-cock tackles from Vunipola and Jack Clifford, and an inside ball to Folau led to a try.
It took an element of good fortune for England to nip ahead again, Nick Phipps chucking a wild pass that ricocheted off legs and found Brown. Back came the ball the other way, Jack Nowell had a dart and again England got lucky with a rebound for Jamie George to score.
Would it ever quieten? Farrell potted a long one, Foley a short one to make it 41-35 with eight minutes to play. And then the clincher, Itoje winning a penalty at the breakdown. Farrell did what Farrell did and that was effectively it.
Splendid. Quite splendid.
Australia: I Folau; D Haylett-Petty, T Kuridrani, M Toomua, R Horne; B Foley, N Phipps; J Slipper, S Moore (capt), S Kepu; W Skelton, R Simmons; S Fardy, M Hooper, S McMahon. Scorers: Foley try, 3 pens, 3 cons; Haylett-Petty, Hooper, Folau, Naiyaravoro try each;
England: M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell, J Nowell; G Ford, B Youngs; M Vunipola, D Hartley (capt), D Cole; M Itoje, G Kruis; C Robshaw, T Harrison, B Vunipola. Scorers: Cole, Brown, B Vunipola, George try each; Farrell 6 pens, 3 cons.