Friday 9 December 2016

Series milestone caps Jones's England revival

Australia 7 England 23

Robert Kitson

Published 19/06/2016 | 02:30

England’s back-row, Billy Vunipola, James Haskell and Chris Robshaw, celebrate after their victory. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
England’s back-row, Billy Vunipola, James Haskell and Chris Robshaw, celebrate after their victory. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

For decades England have flown back from summer tours to the southern hemisphere cursing the entirely predictable outcome. Not this time, not this team. For the first time a group of English players have won a major series Down Under.

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For decades England have flown back from summer tours to the southern hemisphere cursing the entirely predictable outcome. Not this time, not this team. For the first time a group of English players have won a major series Down Under.

Owen Farrell of England is congratulated by Mike Brown and his teammates after scoring the winning try. Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Owen Farrell of England is congratulated by Mike Brown and his teammates after scoring the winning try. Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Considering the mood within English rugby last October, it is a staggering reversal of fortunes, if that is a legitimate phrase for the expertly orchestrated job carried out by Eddie Jones since he took over as head coach.

Even in his moment of triumph, typically, the Australian was already looking for extra gratification in the shape of a 3-0 series whitewash. If that were to happen, his home nation's worst nightmare really will have materialised.

In this instance the Wallabies were scuppered by an heroic English defensive effort, with the post-match counts crediting the visitors with making over 200 tackles, three times as many as their opponents. Chris Robshaw, James Haskell, the Vunipola brothers, Dan Cole and the skipper, Dylan Hartley, were almost insanely committed, with Maro Itoje once again underlining his status as a world-class talent in the making.

Behind the scrum Owen Farrell and George Ford were also central to the plot once more, with the rock-solid Farrell also adding a 74th-minute try to his growing stack of successful kicks. No previous June tour by England has ever yielded a series victory over Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, while Jones's side will also now rise to second place in the World Rugby rankings with only world champions New Zealand ahead of them. For someone like Robshaw, who was winning his 50th cap, the final whistle must have felt particularly surreal.

Mike Brown of England is tackled by Toby Smith of the Wallabies. Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Mike Brown of England is tackled by Toby Smith of the Wallabies. Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Before this series his last glimpse of Wallaby gold was at Twickenham last October when the Wallabies trounced England to knock the hosts out of their own World Cup. As he and his team-mates performed a weary lap of honour around the stadium, an eighth straight victory under Jones safely in the bag along with a Six Nations grand slam, it was hard to imagine a more fitting choice as man of the match.

It also says much for Hartley, his successor as skipper, that his bristling England are almost unrecognisable from the squad who underperformed so publicly last autumn. While the Wallabies enjoyed an overwhelming advantage in terms of territory and possession, they encountered a far steelier defensive screen than had been the case in the first Test in Brisbane, and perhaps the most stirring collective defensive effort since England upset the All Blacks in Wellington in 2003.

That was a similarly rugged game on a greasy surface, although the pitch in this case was in significantly worse shape. England, though, were not going to allow anything to distract them from their overriding objective. Prior to the match England had made no secret of their desire to strike hard in the first 20 minutes and they duly took the lead with a rolling maul try finished by Hartley and converted by Farrell. A Farrell penalty extended that advantage to 10-0 before the Wallabies hit back with a close-range driven try of their own from their skipper Stephen Moore.

While England went in ahead at half-time, emotions were still running high, there was pushing and shoving in the tunnel as the players left the field. Television replays also showed the Australian flanker Michael Hooper throwing a handful of sand in the face of his opposite number, Haskell, as they packed down at a scrum. The home supporters were growing restive, too, booing loudly as Farrell lined up a penalty attempt to extend the visitors' lead. The flyhalf slotted it anyway to set the scene for a positively brutal last half-hour.

James Slipper of the Wallabies runs with the ball. Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images
James Slipper of the Wallabies runs with the ball. Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

England spent large chunks of it on the defensive, showing enormous levels of courage to keep the fired-up Wallabies at bay. If they were helped by the hosts' decision to spurn at least two kickable penalties, a couple of marginal refereeing calls and some suspect Australian handling, there was no disputing Farrell's late try, following a kick ahead from replacement hooker Jamie George.

The stark contrast in moods between the rival coaches, Jones and his old Randwick mate Michael Cheika, after the final whistle pretty much said it all. The last time Australia lost the opening two Tests of a three-match series at home was against South Africa in 1971. Just eight months ago, furthermore, they were contesting the World Cup final. Such is England's rising self-belief, though, that a third straight reverse in Sydney next Saturday would not be a massive shock.

Scorers - England: Hartley, Farrell tries; Farrell 3 pens, 2 cons; Australia: Moore try, Foley con.

Australia: Folau; Haylett-Petty (Morahan 70), Kuridrani, Kerevi (Leali'ifano 60), Horne; Foley, Phipps (Frisby 70); Slipper (Smith 46), Moore (Polota-Nau 55), Kepu (Holmes, 46) Carter (Mumm 50), Arnold, Fardy, Hooper, McMahon (McCalman 50).

England: Brown; Watson (Daly 77), Joseph, Farrell, Nowell; Ford, Youngs (Care 65); M Vunipola (Mullan 65) Hartley (capt; George 72), Cole (Hill 65), Kruis (Lawes 56), Itoje, Robshaw (Launchbury 72), Haskell (Clifford 72), B Vunipola.

Referee: C Joubert (SA)

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