If Perth was the entrée and Brisbane was the main course, Sydney promises to be a dessert worth staying for.
After the drama of the Wallabies’ first Test win over England in Perth a week ago, few could have anticipated the sequel could have rivalled it in Brisbane.
But England, with Eddie Jones’ head on the chopping block, went back to their strengths and found tight-head prop Ellis Genge – the beating heart of the Red Roses – with a bone to pick.
Despite a spirited, character-filled fight back from an injury-ravaged Wallabies side, England sent the series to a decider in Sydney after an enthralling 25-17 victory at Suncorp Stadium.
Jones’ men wearing white were pushed late by the Wallabies, who somehow defied injuries — and a controversial yellow card to Izaia Perese — to somehow claw their way back into the match.
Trailing 22-17 following tries to Taniela Tupou and Samu Kerevi, the Wallabies had all the momentum and England — facing four defeats on the trot — looking like letting another match slip.
But twice the Wallabies failed to seize the moment, as first James O’Connor kicked out on the full near halfway with space on the fringes.
Next Folau Fainga’a failed to throw straight after Tom Wright – having shifted from the wing to fullback and back to the wing because of the mounting injury toll – pinned the ears back, kicked ahead and then banged Owen Farrell into touch.
What promised to be a match-changing moment fell flat. Heads dropped as Fainga’a failed to hit the mark inside England’s attacking 22 metre line.
England won the resulting scrum and it wasn’t long before Farrell, having banged over 17 points from the kicking tee, kicked across field to Jack Nowell and the winger found space and metres.
The Wallabies managed to keep England at bay, but the visitors were awarded a penalty and Farrell punished the home side by extending the lead beyond a converted try.
Michael Hooper’s men didn’t go away, but when Jake Gordon hit Marika Koroibete with a forward pass in the 78th minute it was all but over.
The Wallabies were brave.
After losing four players to injury a week earlier, a fifth if you include Quade Cooper’s pre-match calf injury, more pain was on its way in Brisbane.
Jordan Petaia – the third-choice fullback after Tom Banks (broken arm) and Andrew Kellaway (hamstring) – suffered a concussion in the fourth minute.
Later, replacement utility back Perese suffered a knee-injury, before prop Scott Sio (pec) and lock Cadeyrn Neville (knee) were forced off in the second half.
Who Dave Rennie turns to next will be fascinating because the Wallabies coach has few he can turn to.
Suliasi Vunivalu will likely make his Test debut while Reece Hodge, who returned from Australia A duty on Tuesday, could also be called upon and feature at fullback.
England, meanwhile, produced their best first half of rugby since the 2019 World Cup as their big men went to work, while Farrell returned to his best and finished with 20 points.
We got beaten up last week and we didn’t talked about fronting up, especially the forwards, and I thought we did that today,” No.8 Billy Vunipola said.
“I had a dressing down from my dad last week, so I had to up my game today and hopefully he’s proud and the rest of England. But today was about the boys.
“We did it tough last week. Eddie’s a nice guy, but a tough guy as well, but we needed it last week and we had to perform.”
After Petaia copped a head-knock that forced him from the field, Vunipola got on the scoreboard in the fifth minute after a driving maul.
It was just the start England wanted after a copping a massive spray throughout the week, which left Eddie Jones’ head on the chopping block.
But Jones’ England delivered one of their best halves of rugby since making the 2019 World Cup final.
Just as the case in 2016, where Jones’ England beat Michael Cheika’s Wallabies 3-0, Owen Farrell’s boot proved to be the difference in the match.
The inside centre kicked four first-half penalties to hurt the Wallabies.
While the world erupted after Perese was sent to the sin bin after failing to take an intercept pass from a long, loppy pass.
Eventually, the Wallabies found a way back in the game and it came after Taniela Tupou and Angus Bell managed to win a penalty at the scrum.
Moments later Bell carried the ball forward and his front-row partner followed it up to charge over.
His late first-half try managed to reduce the deficit to 19-7.
While England continued to tick the scoreboard over with another Farrell penalty, Samu Kerevi finished off Tupou’s surge to the tryline to score and cut the margin to 22-14.
Noah Lolesio cut the margin to three points in the 54th minute when Marcus Smith was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knockdown of his own.
But the Wallabies couldn’t land the killer blow, as Farrell added another three and kicked England to a victory.
Taniela Tupou (37′)
Samu Kerevi (48′)
Noah Lolesio (39′)(50′)
Noah Lolesio (54′)
Billy Vunipola (5′)
Owen Farrell (6′)
Owen Farrell (11′)(15′)(23′)(33′)(44′)(67′)