England opens series with 39-28 upset win over Australia
England's resurgence under Eddie Jones gained traction with a breakthrough 39-28 win over the Wallabies to open the three-test series against the Rugby World Cup finalists on Saturday.
Jones took over in the wake of England's dreadful group-stage exit at the 2015 World Cup, sealed by a loss to Australia at Twickenham, and guided the squad to the Six Nations Grand Slam in his first series.
In his first tour back to his native Australia, the former Wallabies coach orchestrated England's first ever test win over the Wallabies in Brisbane, and only the fourth in bilateral series Down Under.
The performance wasn't as convincing as the scoreline. England conceded two tries in the first 16 minutes and another two in the second half — and had the benefit of a lopsided penalty count — but just had enough to hold out a late desperate attack and seal the win with a try to Jack Nowell against the run of play in the last minute.
Owen Farrell finished with 24 points from three conversions and six penalties, giving England the ascendency on the scoreboard. But it was the forwards, particularly flankers James Haskell and Chris Robshaw, who gave England the platform for victory.
"We've made history today, but it's not good enough for us," Jones said after his seventh straight win in charge. "It's all about next week. All we've done is given us one more game in the series."
England could clinch its first series win in Australia with victory in Melbourne next week. The third test is set for Sydney on June 25.
England rallied from 10-0 down to lead 19-13 at halftime, taking advantage of a 9-2 penalty count and swooping on an Australian backfield error for its only first-half try.
"We struggled in the first 10 minutes. Australia put a lot of pace on the ball, which we don't encounter in games in England," Jones said. "Once we found the pace of the game, we played some good rugby ... (but) we'll need to do some work on our defense."
The Australian backs appeared to be unstoppable early in their first test since October, with Michael Hooper crossing in the right corner, and flyhalf Bernard Foley taking on the line to find a gap for Israel Folau, who brushed off Luther Burrell to stroll over in the 16th minute.
Foley missed both conversions but crossed the tryline after a 40-meter solo burst in the 29th, only for it to be disallowed because of an obstruction. The momentum shifted quickly to England.
Australia coach Michael Cheika said the flow of penalties conceded — 15 — punctuated the game and slowed it down.
And he was confused by the decision not to award a try to Foley.
"It's not obstruction mate," he said. "The (defender) went to the wrong guy. He clearly went to the wrong attacker by his choice."
Farrell's third penalty in the next minute made it 10-9, and England took the lead with Jonathan Joseph's opportunist try. He swooped when Foley couldn't handle a poor pass from Folau as Australia tried to return an aimless box kick, and toed ahead to score untouched.
George Ford replaced Burrell late in the first half, and Farrell shifted to 12. He missed his first shot at goal after the interval, but by hitting the post he put England in good field position. Haskell broke from a lineout and England spread the ball quickly to the right where unmarked winger Marland Yarde scored for 29-13.
Australia went a man down when prop Scott Sio was yellow-carded, but dominated the scoring in that period.
Hooper scored his second try as the hour-mark approached and, after Farrell kicked another penalty, Wallabies center Tevita Kuridrani scored beside the posts in the 71st to reduce the margin to 32-25.
With Australia pressing for a win, Foley's penalty in the 78th reduced the gap to four points. The Wallabies threw the ball around searching for a winning try but the move backfired when England claimed loose ball, and Nowell chased Ford's kick through and scored in the corner.