Michael Cheika has apologised to Wallabies fans for an inept performance in Australia’s 23-7 second Test defeat to England that has handed the old enemy an insurmountable Cook Cup series lead.
In front of a record crowd of 29,871 at AAMI Park on Saturday night, the Wallabies huffed and puffed but simply couldn’t get past a heroic English defence, despite long stretches of possession and plenty of chances.
Owen Farrell, who kicked three penalty goals, confirmed the victory with a 75th-minute try that sparked jubilant scenes among Red Rose players and supporters.
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed and we apologise to our fans. Honestly, we’ve had such great support and it’s very disappointing to me – too many errors; too many dropped balls at key moments,” Cheika said.
“(We) had plenty of opportunities to score, dropped the ball on several occasions close to the line and I don’t think we trusted our skills in the key moments.”
England can complete a whitewash with another win next weekend in Sydney.
It also marks a huge career achievement for former Australian mentor Eddie Jones, who has steered England into second place in the world rankings with the result, leapfrogging the Wallabies in the process.
Australia conceded nine penalties to eight and, while some of referee Craig Joubert’s decisions were genuinely puzzling, the cold, hard reality was the Wallabies weren’t good enough to win.
They too often punished themselves with mistakes and bad choices – making an incredible 13 handling errors to England’s four – and failed to score points in the second half.
England, meanwhile, completed four times as many tackles as Australia, hanging on for dear life for much of the evening.
The match was marred by the unstable surface at AAMI Park, which consistently tore up under the weight of scrums in an embarrassment for the Australian Rugby Union.
By fulltime, despite furious attempts by ground staff to fill the divots, parts of the field looked more like a cow paddock than a suitable Test venue.
Both sides scored a converted try from rolling mauls in the first half – England’s through Dylan Hartley in the 19th minute, and Australia’s through captain Stephen Moore in the 35th.
But England went into the break 10-7 ahead, confident and comfortable with where they had the Wallabies.
Moore said he was gutted by the result.
“We’ve got to own this. I feel for the fans,” he said.
“England deserved to win both Tests and we’ve got to be better.”
Hartley said England’s pride had been hurt by conceding four tries in last weekend’s series opener in Brisbane, prompting a furious response.
“We’ll enjoy this bit of history right now, but the message is we go again next week and we finish the tour proud,” he said.