VSstorm, character, madness. Dave Rennie’s Wallabies picked up one of the big back-to-the-wall wins on Saturday, beating England with 14 men and snapping Eddie Jones’ eight-game winning streak against his homeland with a gutsy, searing win in the first Test of the Ella. -Mobbs Trophy three-game series.
Already missing their first-choice playmaker injured in the warm-up, the golden men then lost their full-back to a season-ending injury, lost their scrum base to injury in the lead and lost their roster caller to a red card – all within the first 35 minutes. The most desperate hours are looming.
Rarely has a bench been so busy. Young Noah Lolesio took the conductor’s baton and Quade Cooper’s boots as fly-half, with the apprentice replacing the wizard. Jordan Petaia replaced Tom Banks at No. 15 after the latter’s arm broke while descending from a jump.
On the forward side, veteran James Slipper replaced Allan Alaatoa who was cruelly penalized for not rolling during a concussion. No one could replace the dismissed Darcy Swain, so the Wallabies doubled up, with wingers replacing flankers on the set piece and fullbacks joining the mauls.
For a while, Australia simply held their own, leaning on the ropes and taking punches, throwing a few on the rare occasions they had the ball. With so much blood in the water, the great men of England have gone mad. Dave Rennie’s men were losing the middle, leaning over the edges, giving the maul more penalties.
Yet whenever the White Chargers came, the Wall of Gold held. With limited combinations laid down by the second strings in the lead, Australia stepped up individually with notable acts of bravery. Targeted under the bomb, Lolesio passed every test, then countered with jerky runs or pop passes.
With no Cooper or Banks to clear, Samu Kerevi put aside his appetite for destruction and started driving the ball downfield for territory. Without Swain to go high on restarts, Marika Koroibete began to climb into the English jumpers, ripping the pigskin up high like an Aussie striker. Not content to rest on his wing, Andrew Kellaway went looking for him and began threatening with speed and grubber kicks.
For much of the first half, nerves and adrenaline got the better of both sides. Lineouts have been lost, penalties awarded, opportunities squandered. But for Australia to stagger at half-time on the scoreboard and with their bench players settled into the first XV was a victory in itself.
England started better after the break. Australia tackled bravely, small men over big. Captain Michael Hooper forced a turnover on the tryline but the Wallabies were pinned and when Ellis Genge crossed on the second attempt England were ahead and the hosts looked doomed to bleed.
England’s ascendancy is immediate. Weight of bodies, weight of possession, weight of pressure. Australia kept coming, but now even their biggest hitters were being pushed back. With rain battering the east coast and floodgates threatening to open to the west, a child named Noah turned the tide.
At just 22, with just eight caps to his name and the cherubic face of a slick boy band crooner, Lolesio was overlooked by Rennie for the magic hands of the maverick Cooper. Now on the back of a wave, the rookie ran into the teeth of the enemy and squealed an inside pass. This has finally given Australia momentum. Kellaway snapped it sharply and Petaia climbed three to cross.
It was Hooper’s 66th Test as captain, but the pint-sized warrior had never led a victory over England. Feeling the sap leave his exhausted side, he launched into a kamikaze run at Billy Vunipola, who caught him high. A yellow card is 14 against 14. England are behind on the board and start to panic.
The last major cavalry charge took place late in the day at Beersheba in 1917 and Australian forces carried it out. Now, as the final 10 minutes approached, Lolesio kicked into the corner and Petaia took out Freddie Steward in a powerful collision. From the scrum, Australia rolled and then flew off. Kerevi and Petaia left the baseline and joined the push so Folau Fainga’a, another frontline substitute, could peel off and crash.
At 23-14, Australia was ahead but cooked. They summoned a last-ditch effort, with Hooper and substitute flanker Pete Samu diving to earn a maul penalty. The Wallaby scrum gave way first. But it was a trap. The second setting brought an almighty gold rush and Samu scored from the back. 30-14.
Dead on their feet, game won, the Australian caucus could bring a smile even if they couldn’t spit. England wandered off for two late tries to even the scoreboard, but the real battle had been lost. A tenacious Australia had overcome countless wounds to find their steel and put England to the sword.