England sealed a historic first-ever series victory over Australia, beating the Wallabies 23-7 in Melbourne to take an unassailable 2-0 lead with the third and final Test to come in Sydney next Saturday.
A first-half try from skipper and Northampton Saint Dylan Hartley complemented 18 points from Saracen Owen Farrell, who also flooded through on to a loose ball for a poacher’s score in the final minutes.
It took a remarkable defensive performance to quell the Wallabies, who were relentless in attack, but the tourists blended discipline and ferocious physicality throughout.
In slippery conditions on a sandy surface at AAMI Park Eddie Jones’ side had a chance for the first points when Sekope Kepu shoved Saracens lock Maro Itoje in a line-out.
Farrell – who guided his club side to the Aviva Premiership Rugby title last month – saw his kick fade to the right and an extremely tetchy, tense encounter remained scoreless until the 18th minute.
A well-rehearsed driving maul saw Hartley, on his 74th Test appearance and becoming England’s most-capped hooker, dot down. Farrell’s conversion made it 7-0.
Hartley and his front-row colleagues were also spearheading a scrum effort that the Wallabies struggled to contain.
When one burly push splintered the hosts, England’s maul eked out a breakdown penalty from another muscular line-out maul. Farrell was on target for 10-0.
The ensuing restart provided Australia with a much-needed foothold as Sean McMahon’s charge set off 18 phases of carrying at the England line. Paul Gustard’s defensive system stayed firm but Wasps flanker James Haskell infringed.
Australia skipper Stephen Moore had no hesitation in going to the corner and it was he who was the beneficiary of another driving maul. Bernard Foley’s conversion brought his team back within three points.
There was a taste of what was to come just before the break, England repelling over 20 phases of Australia attack, sparked by McMahon, and the teams went into half-time with England leading 10-7.
Calm commitment to the kick-chase brought England the opening points of the second stanza, assistant referee Nigel Owens intervening to ask the television match official’s thoughts on an off-the-ball incident between Foley and Farrell.
Owens thought Farrell was in the wrong, Craig Joubert adjudged that Foley had infringed. From 40 metres, Farrell extended England’s lead.
With six minutes remaining England sealed the game. Scott Fardy saw the ball slip from his grasp under a shuddering tackle from Farrell, Northampton Saint Paul Hill and Saracen Billy Vunipola moved turnover ball right and Courney Lawes galloped into open space.
Saracens hooker Jamie George followed up and sent a skidding grubber through. Farrell, following up with trademark tenacity, dotted down under the posts. A 20-7 advantage would not be overturned.
One last scrum penalty gave Farrell the chance to ice the cake from 50 metres and the Saracen’s kick bisected the uprights to set off ecstatic and deserved celebrations.