England completed an outstanding 3-0 series in Australia after coming out on top in a barnstormer of a third Test, winning 44-40 in Sydney.
A late score for Taqele Naiyaravoro meant the Wallabies edged the try-scoring battle five to four, after equally clinical attacking and some tired defending by both sides, but in the end it came down to the points off the boot of Owen Farrell, 24 overall as he knocked over six penalties and three conversions. He finished with 23 kicks out of 26 attempts over the three Tests.
After the one-way demolition that New Zealand dished out in Dunedin this refreshingly was a proper Test match, both sides swinging blows at the other to tip the scoreboard back and forth.
A record crowd for Allianz Stadium of 44,063 were treated to some contest, and one which the Wallabies had to win after two confidence-sapping losses. Instead they became only the fourth team in history to score 40 points in a Test match and lose.
England’s defence wasn’t the sensational force from seven days ago but they showed real tenacity to keep coming back at the Wallabies when in the past their heads might have dropped.
Australia hadn’t been defeated 3-0 in a home series since South Africa in 1971. Now England head home with their chests puffed out having changed that.
England’s early approach was so controlled, directed excellently by Ben Youngs through a series of short pop passes which culminated with Dan Cole crashing over for his third try in 68 Tests.
Australia’s response though was instant, Israel Folau breaking up the touchline before passes to Matt Toomua and then Bernard Foley saw the fly-half canter over. A possible knock-on in the build-up was ruled out by the TMO, allowing Foley to convert to make it 7-7.
It was a decent response from Stephen Moore’s side, forcing England to miss tackles which they made in Melbourne to get over the gain line.
The improvement in the width of their play thanks to Matt Toomua’s return was obvious, stretching England far more than last week and subsequently rewarded with a second try.
Dane Haylett-Petty has enjoyed an outstanding series and now has a first Test try to his name, waiting patiently on the wing for Australia to send the ball wide until the overlap was found and Folau put his winger over in the corner. Foley couldn’t convert, leaving the Wallabies ahead 12-7.
England’s scrum hit back by winning a penalty, knocked over by Farrell, only for the tourists to hold on at the restart for Foley to counter with three points of his own.
Big hits from the Australian defence were forcing handling errors out of England but a moment of skill from Anthony Watson unlocked the defence.
Chipping over the top of Haylett-Petty, it was Mike Brown who won the race to the ball following up to score and tie the game, Farrell’s touchline coversion then putting England ahead 17-15.
Immediately after that happened the new face in England’s XV, Teimana Harrison, was hauled off and replaced by Courtney Lawes on 31 minutes, with Maro Itoje moving to six, in a move similar to Luther Burrell’s early substitution in the first Test.
Foley missed a penalty to restore the lead, after a late tackle from Cole, as a quality Test match headed towards half-time with Foley nudging the Wallabies back ahead after Maro Itoje went offside. Adam Coleman was a half-time replacement for Will Skelton as he made his Wallabies debut.
A curious start to the second half followed, a high kick from George Ford hitting the spider-cam above but with play carrying on Youngs pinned Australia right back in their corner.
Stephen Moore overthrew from the subsequent lineout five metres out but Chris Robshaw couldn’t ground the ball, held up and handing the tourists a close-range scrum, from which there was no stopping Billy Vunipola as England scored their third try. Farrell couldn’t convert, but England led 22-18.
There was nothing wrong his next effort, a superb long-range penalty by Farrell stretching England’s lead to seven.
Typical of the contest Australia’s response was almost instant, Coleman on debut bursting through the middle only to be hauled down short of the line.
Now it was the Wallabies’ turn to have a five-metre scrum and they stretched England one way and then the next before Michael Hooper went through the tackle of Brown and reached out to try and ground the ball on the line. Foley converted, levelling things up at 25-25.
England freshened up with the arrival of Danny Care and Jack Clifford off the bench to add some pace and the pack was still working away, James Slipper penalised for not binding square before Farrell landed his third penalty to restore the lead.
It didn’t last long. Toomua busted through a tired tackle attempt from Billy Vunipola and had Folau on his inside to score Australia’s fourth try.
A penalty against Fardy for playing the ball on the floor helped Farrell to chip back again, cutting the gap to one point at 32-31, as England never gave up.
Jamie George, the super sub from Melbourne, came back off the bench and struck again with his golden boot, although this time luck played a huge part as a trickling ball ricocheted forward off his legs and the hooker pounced on it to score. Farrell again converted, giving England a six-point lead.
A moment of madness from Nick Phipps loosely flicking the ball backwards started off the chain of events which led to that score and now Australia had to keep their heads, down by nearly a converted score with time ticking away.
Farrell had a shot at another penalty won from England’s driving maul and typical of a series in which he’s come so far he landed it from some way out, taking England over the 40-point barrier for a 41-32 lead.
Straight away Foley responded with three points from right out in front to bring the Wallabies back within a converted score but now the hosts were fighting against the clock as England noticeably took their time, bringing on Elliot Daly into the back row as the legs began to tire.
Farrell hammered home the result, his sixth penalty confirming not just the win, but a series whitewash against the team who dumped them out of their own Rugby World Cup last year.
Naiyaravoro had the final say with a try after the siren, but this was England’s night. They have completely deserved to win the series, and this will go right up near the top as one of their finest achievements.
Man of the Match: Plenty of standout performers on both sides, Dane Haylett-Petty and Sean McMahon for Australia, but the composure of Owen Farrell decided both the Test and the series.
Moment of the Match: He might have been a touch fortunate with the way the ball bounced his way but Jamie George’s try gave England the margin they needed.
Villain of the Match: Nothing nasty to report.
Tries: Foley, Haylett-Petty, Hooper, Folau, Naiyaravoro
Cons: Foley 3
Pens: Foley 3
Tries: Cole, Brown, B Vunipola, George
Cons: Farrell 3
Pens: Farrell 6
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Christian Leali’ifano, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Teimana Harrison, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Courtney Lawes, 21 Jack Clifford, 22 Danny Care, 23 Elliot Daly
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)