LONDON (AP) — England completed 2016 test rugby with a perfect winning record after overcoming a sluggish start and beating Australia 37-21 at Twickenham on Saturday.
England was fortunate to trail by only three points at halftime but didn't panic, and incredibly dominated the Wallabies in the second half so well that the visitors got out of their territory only twice.
The English smashed Australia to secure the result within 10 minutes of the restart, scoring two intelligent, converted tries to zoom from a nervy 16-13 down to a comfortable 27-16 ahead.
Despite conceding a second try to Australia, England capped its relentless pressure with a fourth try and second gift for center Jonathan Joseph.
"We recuperated (at halftime), got our heads in a better space," England coach Eddie Jones said. "To win the second half 24-5 is a pretty fair effort."
England's 13th win in 13 tests earned it a first unbeaten year in 24 years, and only the second by a major team in the professional era.
The result also was England's 14th straight win, four of them against Australia, to match the national record streak by the great 2002-03 team.
"The 2003 side is a much better side than we are at the moment," Jones said. "They could win any number of ways, and they had a very, very consistent scrum and lineout. We don't have that yet."
Neither did England have any world-class players, he said, adding the only milestone he was interested in was becoming the No. 1 test side.
"We can't get too far ahead of ourselves. We're only the No. 2 team in the world," Jones said. "But to beat the third-ranked country in the world 4-0 is fantastic."
As good as England was in the second half, it was as poor in the first.
It came out unexpectedly flat, and after 15 minutes Australia led 10-0, scoring one try but having three legitimately disallowed by the TMO.
Australia's try started from a scrum, which was ironic, because the scrum was a hostile subject between the coaches in the buildup. England had the put-in on a defensive five-meter scrum, and the ball bounced off hooker Dylan Hartley's thigh into Australia's feet. Out it flashed, and Dane Haylett-Petty came off his right wing to give left wing Sefa Naivalu an easy overlap and score.
The Wallabies were tearing England to shreds, and should have put the score almost out of sight. But one try was ruled out by a slight knock-on, and the other two TMO decisions were easier: England lock George Kruis held up prop Sekope Kepu, and Joseph held up opposite Tevita Kuridrani.
England clawed back with penalties and an opportunist try, coming from a pass along the ground hacked upfield by Owen Farrell and scooped up by Joseph.
Three up by halftime, Australia could be happy with how it was playing but feel mugged on the scoreboard. England was no longer fearful but emboldened to have survived the half and still be in touch.
In the second half, England stopped the Wallabies at the gain-line and forced errors. And scrumhalf Ben Youngs was masterful.
Within five minutes, right wing Marland Yarde beat Australia fullback Israel Folau to a Joseph grubberkick in the in-goal. Then England No. 8 Nathan Hughes earned a penalty after making big blindside meters off a scrum. Australia relaxed, and Youngs quick-tapped and ran to the line virtually untouched.
"Turned our backs, that's unforgivable," Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said.
Farrell, perfect again with 6-out-of-6 goalkicks, converted both tries, and England was ahead by 11 with half an hour left.
That was time enough for a Kepu try, Haylett-Petty to receive the Wallabies' 10th yellow card of the year, and flanker David Pocock, playing his last test until 2018 to take a sabbatical, to give an intercept try to Joseph.
As England took a lap of honor, the Wallabies took their lumps in the same dressing room in which they finished 2015, after losing the Rugby World Cup final. This was their ninth loss in 15 tests this year but Cheika was encouraged.
"Two disappointing finishes to '15 and '16, but we definitely improved a lot, got a lot of young lads with test experience," he said. "I'm very positive about the team."