Australia gave the Lions a reminder of how hard they’ll have to work to secure series success next summer as they saw off England at Twickenham.
The Wallabies battled back from a Parisian nightmare to leave London with a 20-14 victory under their belts just seven days after being thumped 33-6 by the French.
Nick Cummins’ fine try five minutes before half-time and 15 points from the boot of Berrick Barnes earned a morale-boosting win as Robbie Deans’ troops put a week of heavy criticism behind them in some style.
Watching Lions boss Warren Gatland will no doubt have taken particular note of the way the Wallaby pack refused to be dominated at scrum time, with tighthead Ben Alexander a major thorn in England’s side all afternoon.
And while the man charged with leading Britain and Ireland’s elite next summer wouldn’t have needed any new evidence to tell him just how tough a test awaits Down Under in 2013, the manner in which the Wallabies stuck together, stuck to their task and refused to buckle under intense pressure late on would have certainly caught his eye.
England actually led 14-11 at the break but it was the Wallabies who created the better chances in the first half.
The visitors were positive right from the off, just as they had promised all week at their press conferences in Kensington, and, even though England led three times through Toby Flood’s boot, there were plenty of signs that their Stade de France showing wouldn’t be repeated on the second leg of their end-of-year tour.
Alexander came close to the opening try on his return from a wrist injury only for the TMO to rule the ball had been held up over the line but the warning signs were there for Stuart Lancaster and co. Michael Hooper, Ben Tapuai, Nick Phipps and Cummins all made impressive bursts into English territory and it was the latter pair who combined to ensure their side finally crossed the line with 35 minutes on the clock.
Rebels scrum-half Phipps supplied the telling break behind England’s first line of defence and Force wing Cummins cruised home despite a hint of a forward pass. Phipps was only a fringe player before Will Genia’s untimely knee problem and Cummins was way down the pecking order prior to a whole host of injuries out wide but both men came good when it mattered in the English capital.
Cummins’ unconverted effort gave Australia an 11-9 advantage after Flood had landed three penalties compared to a penalty and a drop goal from Barnes and few could argue that they didn’t deserve to be ahead.
The lead didn’t last long, though, as England hit back in style just seconds before the interval when Manu Tuilagi showed his power and pace to surge over in the left-hand corner. The TMO made the Twickenham faithful wait a little longer than they would have liked but they were eventually given the all clear to celebrate the Leicester centre’s eighth try in 15 Tests.
The Wallabies could easily have been shaken by Tuilagi’s try so close to the break but they began the second period brightly and were quickly six points to the good after Barnes slotted three further penalties.
England piled on the pressure as the final quarter approached, with Chris Ashton dragged down just short after Joe Launchbury leapt highest to gather Flood’s up and under and Thomas Waldrom falling foul of the TMO as he lost control when attempting to ground the ball moments later.
The hosts were left to rue their decision to turn down a couple of kickable penalties in favour of searching for a seven-pointer that never arrived as Australia held firm to reclaim the Cook Cup and dent England’s hopes of an autumn clean sweep following the 50-point win over Fiji.