Ben Morgan scored two tries as England secured a 26-17 win over the Wallabies at Twickenham on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
They may not have openly said it in the buildup during the week, but this was a must-win match for the English. With less than 12 months to go before the World Cup kicks off, and against a side they will face in the pool stage, they needed to show themselves contenders, even if it was against the weakest of the three southern hemisphere giants.
They did so by returning to their traditional strengths, keeping the ball among their forwards and forcing the Wallabies back with a well-executed tactical kicking game. For all the comments in the buildup about George Ford's ability to attack the line and offer variation on attack, it was his boot, along with that of Ben Youngs, that laid the foundations for this victory.
For Australia, the loss condemned them to their worst European tour since 2005. It would be remiss to lay the blame with Michael Cheika, especially with the bunch of forwards he has at his disposal, but Australia were poor. Henry Speight was once again targeted under the high ball, while Israel Folau's kicking game, or lack thereof, was laid bare for all to see.
Nick Phipps was laboured at the base of the ruck, and while they showed glimpses on attack, they simply did not build any pressure on the hosts. However, it was at the scrums they suffered their greatest humiliation as they were obliterated by a dominant England pack.
It was the Wallabies who drew first blood, with Bernard Foley knocking over a penalty in the third minute after good work from captain Michael Hooper at the breakdown. Ford would level matters a couple minutes later, before another penalty gave England the lead.
Two good pieces of defence, a fine covering tackle by Courtney Lawes on Adam Ashley-Cooper and a penalty won by Chris Robshaw with the Wallabies on attack, kept Austalia out after Hooper had opted for the corner rather than the posts. The Wallabies would be made to pay after Folau inexplicably knocked the ball on in his 22 under no pressure.
From the resultant scrum, Brad Barritt got England over the gainline, before the ball was recycled to Morgan, who crashed over for the first try of the match. Ford added the extras, and the score would remain 13-3 heading into half-time.
Ford had an opportunity to extend the lead early in the second half, but sliced his to the right of the posts. The Wallabies responded with a well-worked try of their own as Waratahs teammates Rob Horne and Foley combined to great effect, with the latter going in under the posts. He added the extras in what would be his last contribution as Cheika decided to replace him with the mercurial Quade Cooper with 35 minutes remaining.
Cooper would be involved in the next score, but it would come at the wrong end of the field. He failed to deal with a deep kick by England fullback Mike Brown and was driven out across the tryline giving England a 5m scrum. There was only going to be one outcome as Man of the Match Morgan went over for his second after the Australian scrum splintered under the pressure.
Australia were dazed, but showed their resilience to land a counter-punch of their own. After some good interplay among the backs, the ball was worked to replacement Will Skelton, who barrelled over two attempted tacklers to slam the ball down for a try. Blow and counter-blow, it was Test match rugby at its brutal best.
Ford then showed great composure under pressure to slot his third penalty and extend England's lead to 23-17 with just over 15 minutes remaining. He would strike the final blow in the 76th minute to cap off a great performance and a match haul of 16 points.
The result was solace for England after a tough month, while for Cheika and Australia it meant they leave Europe with just one win from four outings.
England – Tries: Ben Morgan (2). Conversions: George Ford (2). Penalties: Ford (4).
Australia – Tries: Bernard Foley, Will Skelton. Conversions: Foley, Quade Cooper. Penalty: Foley.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 George Kruis, 20 James Haskell, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Marland Yarde.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Luke Jones, 21 Nic White, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images