England produced a sustained and outstanding defensive effort to keep Australia at bay before a late Owen Farrell try clinched a 23-7 win to secure his team a first series win on Australian soil on Saturday.
England clung on to a six-point lead for much of the second half and stood firm in the face of relentless Australian attacks, though the Wallabies will face questions after their refusal to take kickable shots at goal with the scores so tight.
Farrell finally settled the bruising and often spiteful contest in the 75th minute when he raced on to a kick through to secure a 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
Playing at inside centre, Farrell also slotted five out of six shots at goal, with captain Dylan Hartley scoring their other try in the first half of an enthralling encounter.
It was England’s relentless defence under suffocating pressure that was ultimately decisive as they repelled wave after wave of assaults on their line from a Wallabies side desperate to square the series.
Australia were held scoreless for 35 minutes before captain Stephen Moore touched down in a rolling maul and were never allowed a second try despite totally domination possession and territory.
“Our defence was outstanding,” England’s Australian coach Eddie Jones told reporters, already looking forward to the dead rubber in Sydney next week.
“We had to play rope-a-dope today. We got an opportunity to score a try and we took it. And that’s the sign of a good side.”
England now leapfrog Australia into second in the world rankings and have set their sights on dethroning world champions All Blacks, who earlier sealed their series over Wales 2-0.
The series win was a personal triumph for Jones, the former Wallabies mentor who was left heartbroken by Jonny Wilkinson’s last minute drop-goal in the 2003 World Cup final that gave England victory over the hosts in Sydney.
Crestfallen Wallabies coach Michael Cheika lamented his side’s failure to find a way through despite their dominance of possession.
“We played a lot of footy but it doesn’t win you the game always,” he said.
“We’ve got to learn to play a lot of footy and win the game, too.”
England, who won the opener in Brisbane 39-28, were the first to settle after a testy opening phase featuring an all-in melee.
They took a five-metre line-out from a penalty and rumbled Hartley over the line in a rolling maul in the 19th minute.
Ten minutes later, Australia were 10-0 down after Farrell slotted a penalty but the hosts finally sparked into action with a 14-phase drive.
Hooker Moore barged over in a rolling maul at the left corner but England held the 10-7 advantage to the break after weathering another fierce assault on their line after the referee ruled that the clock was still running despite England knocking the ball into touch thinking time was up.
Farrell’s second penalty in the 52nd minute made it a six-point game and from there the game descended into a boxing match as the Wallabies pounded away and England refused to yield.
The stalemate was broken when replacement hooker Jamie George kicked the ball through the line, allowing Farrell to coolly collect and touch down.
He completed the scoring with his conversion and a penalty on the final whistle, triggering wild celebrations among the English players as they savoured a long-awaited Australian breakthrough.