On an emotionally charged day that began with a exemplary moments applause for Australian cricketer Phil Hughes, who tragically died earlier this week, it was England who won out 26-17 to secure a key victory in a hugely entertaining, and intensely fought contest.
A clear London day allowed both teams to play with ball in hand but it was the home side who were able to put together a more complete performance; number eight Ben Morgan going in for two tries to cap an excellent performance from the English pack.
Coach Stuart Lancaster had demanded more from his team in the run up to the game and the England players responded with an intelligent game plan that kept a threatening Australian side at arms length.
Tightly contested first half
It was a tale of nearly but not quite in the opening exchanges. Both sides’ inability to make the final pass, as well as several costly penalties, allowed a number of try scoring opportunities to escape them in the first half hour of action.
But with 10 minutes remaining in the half, and the score at 6-3 to England, it was the home side who were able to pounce on one of Australia’s many sloppy mistakes to take control of the contest.
A costly knock on from Australia full back Israel Folau as he attempted to collect a deep England kick on the half hour mark saw a scrum inside Australia’s 22. As ‘Sweet Chariot’ resonated around Twickenham England’s forwards responded with a strong scrum setting the home side up with a good platform.
Ford controlled things from there. Australia scrambled to stop Brad Barritt from breaking the line after a simple pass. But they couldn’t hold out for long with Ben Morgan going in to score to the left of the posts on the very next phase of play. Ford converted to give England a 13-3 lead with 11 minutes left to go in the first half.
The remainder of the half followed a similar pattern. Australia struggled to get a foot hold in the game as a combination of intense England defence and Wallaby mishandling, and ill-discipline allowed Stuart Lancaster’s team to keep their try line intact.
The half time whistle was met with loud applause as England headed to the changing rooms 13-3 up.
Blockbuster second half
England fans' good cheer was dimmed early in the second half though with a quick Australia score.
Just four minutes into the second period the visiting side did what they had failed to do in the first 40 - put together an error free attack and go in for a try.
After nine phases of play fly half Bernard Foley exchanged passes with winger Rob Horne and broke through a faltering England defense with ease to run in from just inside the England half.
With the intensity ramped up another level Australia were next to threaten, putting together another impressive set of phases with 14 gone in the second half. England refused to buckle however and were on the attack not long after.
The power game
Excellent pressure after a kick into the corner from Brown saw England force Australia's Cooper to take the ball over his own goal line.
From the resulting five metre scrum the English forwards did the rest. Their dominance at the set piece had been evident all day long, and as the pack drove the scrum forward and over the Australia line it was Ben Morgan who was on hand to score his second try of the day.
The game had come alive and Australia weren't willing to be left behind. Six minutes later they were back to within three points. This time it was replacement Will Skelton who punched in from close range to quieten the Twickenham crowd after another excellently constructed set of phases.
After the quick exchange of tries the game was on a knife edge as the floodlights blinked on. England were able to ease the tension a little though as they extended their lead to 23-17 with a George Ford penalty with 16 minutes remaining.
Earlier errors return
Australia were not out of it though and had a great chance to reduce the scores once more with eight minutes left on the clock.
After searching for a gap, and taking the ball from side to side, the Wallabies thought they were in in the corner with Horne the extra man.
But their first half issues with the final pass returned at just just the wrong time. A pass aimed in the direction of Horne from Folau was too high for the winger to bring down, a try having looked inevitable.
And just as sloppy passing had cost them at one end, ill-discipline saw England take the game out of Australia's reach with four minutes to go. Desperate to get the ball back, captain Hooper was pinged at the ruck allowing Ford to kick his fourth penalty of the game and give England a 26-17 lead that they would maintain to the end.
Grit and determination
The English pack was the key for the home side in this win. An ability to control the set piece, and in particular the scrum, allowed them to pip their Southern Hemisphere opponents and give Stuart Lancaster a much needed win in this the final game of the Autumn International Series.
Australia meanwhile will be hurting after yet another tight loss and, despite playing some nice rugby with ball in hand, they will rue a number of errors that allowed England to capitalise.
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