England have exacted sweet revenge for last year’s World Cup embarrassment with a historic 39-28 defeat of the Wallabies.
All the promises of “Bodyline” rugby came true as Eddie Jones’ touring side scratched and scrapped their way to a gripping victory at Suncorp Stadium in front of 48,735 fans.
Australia scored four tries to three, but a 15-8 penalty count and the dead-eye goal-kicking of England five-eighth Owen Farrell, who contributed 24 points, proved the difference.
It is England’s first-ever win in Brisbane and just their fourth Test victory on Australian soil, and continues their renaissance under former Wallaby mentor Eddie Jones.
It also represents the first real speed bump in the Wallabies’ evolution under coach Michael Cheika.
Except for the first 20 or so minutes, when they came out of the blocks firing, the Wallabies were out-fought and largely off-colour.
They opened up a 10-0 lead after early tries to Michael Hooper and Israel Folau but were wrestled out of the reckoning at the breakdown, with No.7 James Haskell and young gun Maro Itoje leading the way for the Red Rose.
Nick Phipps summed it up best as he trudged off at halftime with Australia down 16-13: “We let them off the hook.”
Four of Farrell’s six penalties came in the first half, and he also converted Jonathan Joseph’s momentum-swinging 32nd-minute try, which came after a horrific dropped pass by Bernard Foley and a failure by debutant Samu Kerevi to clean up the mess.
Two minutes earlier, the television match official had contentiously chalked off a stunning solo try from Foley for an obstruction on Luther Burrell by Rory Arnold, making it a potential 17-point turnaround for the Wallabies.
Then England winger Marland Yarde touched down in the 46th minute to give the hosts a mountain to climb.
The Wallabies’ attempt at a comeback was handicapped by a yellow card to Scott Sio in the 54th minute, and despite tries through Hooper and Tevita Kuridrani – the latter with nine to go – they fell just short, with Jack Nowell crossing on the bell to put icing on England’s cake.
Australian captain Stephen Moore said England deserved the win.
“They played well. They put us under pressure at the breakdown and that’s important at this level,” he said.
“It’s disappointing to lose at home in our first Test of the year. That’s the way it goes.
“We need to tighten up for next week. We’ve got two more games left in this series.”
England skipper Dylan Hartley was delighted but said his players had to keep their “egos in check” before the second Test at Melbourne’s AAMI Park.
“Look, we’re going to keep our feet on the ground,” Hartley said.
“We’re well aware it’s the first of three.
“We’ve focused all our energy into this first game and to get that result is a good way to start our campaign.
“It’s been built up for a big series. It’s exciting.”