England held onto a 21-20 lead for the last 25 minutes to beat the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday.
It was a case of déjà vu for the hosts as 2003 World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson’s penalty was the significant difference in England’s win. Wilkinson, who made his first appearance at the ANZ Stadium since slotting the famous late drop goal seven years ago, converted a 55th minute three-pointer as England hung on for an impressive victory.
Wallabies inside centre Matt Giteau also missed two late penalties, including one right in front, which should’ve handed the Wallabies the win. However, England were the better all-round team on the day.
The visitors, strapped with black armbands in memory of former England and Lions loose forward Andy Ripley, came out with a smarter approach than in their defeat in Perth last Saturday. They won the early momentum with strong ball carries, singled out the gaps around the set-pieces and breakdowns and their physicality on defence had the Wallabies on the back foot.
England head coach Martin Johnson also made sure that Wallabies pivot Quade Cooper, who had a big influence in the match last weekend, was marked with Lewis Moody holding his number for most of the night. This was evident as early as the first minute as Cooper was smashed by the England captain.
This clearly startled the Wallabies playmaker as he dropped the ball in the next tackle which led to the opening penalty as the home team infringed at the breakdown after England grabbed possession. Pivot Toby Flood converted for the early lead.
England would then rue missed chances as they had two clear try-scoring opportunities. Two breaks into the Wallabies’ red zone were turned over after centre Mike Tindall’s pass around the back went horribly wrong and when they allowed a steal by Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia 5m from the chalk.
There was much focus on the scrum battle heading into the second Test after England dominated the Wallabies in Perth. Despite conceding two penalty tries from 5m scrums and a yellow card for tighthead Salesi Ma’afu, head coach Robbie Deans kept his faith in his front row and it worked.
The Wallabies turned over an England scrum for an early mental victory. This created a rowdy affair between the front rows with England loosehead Tim Payne escaping a yellow card for a blatant punch despite the assistant referee picking it up. The Wallabies capitalised on Payne and hooker Steve Thompson’s ill-discipline as Giteau kicked his team into the lead via two penalties.
However, 20-year-old scrumhalf Ben Youngs put England back ahead with a great individual run through the gap at the back of the lineout. Youngs beat wing Drew Mitchell on the outside for pace, and Flood added the extras.
The Wallabies regained the lead as they took advantage of the marking on Cooper from a scrum in centre field. With two men focused on Cooper, a dummy pass to wing Digby Ioane saw the speedster break and an offload gave Giteau a clear run under the posts.
But again, England hit back.
Good interplay around a breakdown put wing Chris Ashton through as he handed off fullback James O’Connor for England’s second try. Flood was unable to add the extras, but the visitors had a 15-13 half-time lead.
The Wallabies came out strong in the second half as they exposed England moments after the restart. With the ball going through the hands, O’Connor broke on the right touchline and an inside pass to Giteau gave the inside centre his double and the Wallabies a 20-15 lead.
Flood converted a penalty before crying off with an injury in the 50th minute, giving Jonny Wilkinson an early run. There was also a key substitute for the Wallabies. Ma’afu started to buckle at scrum time and was replaced by James Slipper.
Wilkinson converted a goal attempt to put England ahead but poor goal kicking from Giteau cost the Wallabies the lead. The Wallabies also broke into England’s 22m area on regular occasions, but a strong, tireless defence from the visitors denied the hosts.
Wilkinson had an opportunity to kick a 79th minute penalty but his attempt went wide. Nevertheless, England managed to hold onto possession in the dying seconds and cleared the ball into touch at the sound of the final hooter.
By Gareth Duncan