Eddie Jones’ magic touch has returned, as the Australian oversaw yet another series win over the Wallabies Down Under.
Six years ago he masterminded England’s 3-0 series win over the Wallabies and despite arriving on Australian shores with his coaching career on the line has once again played the role as party pooper, with England prevailing 21-17 at the SCG on Saturday night.
In 2016 everything Jones touched turned to gold. Twice he made first-half substitutions on that tour and on both occasions they swung the game in England’s favour against Michael Cheika’s side.
On the SCG — the ground he watched as a kid and was inspired by Ian Chappell’s aggressive nature when he first captained Australia against England in 1971 — Jones’ midas touch returned.
The Randwick great made the huge call to replace veteran Danny Care at halfback after 37 minutes. The decision proved pivotal as Jack van Poortvliet came on and helped turn the game.
England took a 11-10 lead into the main break as their gun fullback Freddie Steward – the best in the air since Israel Folau – scored out wide and Jones’ men never looked back.
And when Marcus Smith ran away near the halfway line as another dropped Wallabies ball went to ground, England were away and the strong crowd of 43,274 fell flat.
Replacement hooker Folau Fainga’a scored in the 65th minute to give the Wallabies some hope and cut the deficit to 21-17 after Noah Lolesio’s conversion.
But the Wallabies blew opportunities in the final quarter and kicked the ball away at times to hurt their chances of a come-from-behind win.
It never arrived, as England sealed a famous win at the SCG – the last rugby international at the famous ground.
England’s win was yet another victory for the northern hemisphere, with Ireland toppling the All Blacks to secure their own famous series success in New Zealand.
The Wallabies showed promise in attack but never quite got going.
While Tom Wright scored a fantastic first-half try, the Wallabies bombed one try early and missed another too. On both occasions, their skills let them down as Reece Hodge failed to find his target out wide and Taniela Tupou’s pass was too hot to handle for Nick Frost.
The Wallabies were guilty of going wide too early. It was a signature of the time under Michael Cheika, where the Wallabies tried to out-run rather than out-think their opponents.
Perhaps it was because the Wallabies had been decimated over the past two weeks that they lacked fluency and cohesion and, ultimately, lost. For days Dave Rennie had said the decider would be a good test of their depth and while some shone the Wallabies weren’t able to bring it together and give the nation the hope it craves and the confidence they need as a team.
Quade Cooper never played a minute after injuring his calf in warm-up in Perth, while Dave Rennie was forced to play four different fullbacks after injuries to Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway and Jordan Petaia.
Up front the Wallabies lost their starting second-row pair in Darcy Swain (suspension) and Cadeyrn Neville (MCL), too.
But England also were missing plenty of players.
Manu Tuilagi, Kyle Sinckler and Henry Slade never toured, while key forwards Maro Itoje, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill all picked up concussions along the way.
England beat up the Wallabies at times and while Rennie’s men showed huge character in Perth and Brisbane, and even threatened to make a fist of it in Sydney, they lost the collisions and were let down by their discipline.
Early on the Wallabies paid the price for their handling and discipline as Owen Farrell banged over the opening points of the night.
Wright’s stunning try was the exception, with the winger one of the few to continue to impress. He even pulled off a stunning try-saver later in the first-half.
But Steward’s late try in the first half and Lolesio’s error to allow Smith to run away proved a defining moment that summed up the Wallabies’ sorry return to the SCG.