Australia 30-28 England: Wallabies win Test series opener with remarkable comeback despite Swain red card

·5 min read
Triumphant: Injury-plagued Australia staged a remarkable comeback with 14 men  (Getty Images)
Triumphant: Injury-plagued Australia staged a remarkable comeback with 14 men (Getty Images)

England’s flawless record against Australia under Eddie Jones is over after they fell to a crushing 30-28 defeat in a remarkable Test series opener in Perth.

The tourists looked to be on course for a key victory at Optus Stadium to boost morale as they controlled much of the second half with a man advantage after Darcy Swain’s first-half sending off for headbutting fellow lock Jonny Hill.

However, despite Ellis Genge’s patient try, they were unable to turn that dominance into enough points as injury-plagued Australia staged a remarkable late comeback - helped by Billy Vunipola’s yellow card that evened up the numbers - with tries from Jordan Petaia, Folau Fainga’a and Pete Samu.

Henry Arundell and Jack van Poortvliet both came off the bench to register last-gasp debut tries for England, but it wasn’t enough as they lost by two points to continue a dismal run of form ahead of two further Tests on consecutive Saturdays to take place in Brisbane and Sydney.

It is the second time in as many games that England, now on a run of four consecutive losses under Jones, failed to make a man advantage count, having been embarrassed by the 14-man Barbarians at Twickenham last month.

Darcy Swain looked to leave Australia in big trouble after being sent off for a first-half headbutt (AP)
Darcy Swain looked to leave Australia in big trouble after being sent off for a first-half headbutt (AP)

England also won only two of their five matches during another hugely disappointing Six Nations campaign earlier in 2022.

For Australia, it’s a first win over England in nine attempts, having previously not beaten their old enemy since inflicting their humiliating pool stage exit from a home World Cup under Stuart Lancaster in 2015.

They had lost all eight games with Aussie Jones as England’s head coach, including a famous series whitewash down under in 2016 and the 2019 World Cup quarter-final in Oita as well as a scrappy autumn international at Twickenham in November.

Australia, who handed debuts to 33-year-old lock Cadeyrn Neville and hooker Dave Porecki on Saturday, were dealt a blow before kick-off when veteran playmaker Quade Cooper suffered an ankle injury during the warm-up and was replaced at fly-half by Noah Lolesio, with James O’Connor going from a box to the bench.

Head coach Dave Rennie's injury headache only increased when full-back Tom Banks landed horribly on his arm after an aerial challenge and prop Allan Alaalatoa - starting in the absence of Taniela Tupou - walked off groggily after a tackle.

The standout moment of the first half came when locks Hill and Swain engaged in an ugly dust-up following a maul, with hair and shirt pulling followed by a nasty headbutt from the Australian, who was deservedly sent off by New Zealand referee James Doleman. Hill got away with a yellow for hair pulling.

In-form prop Ellis Genge registered England’s first try after patient play in the corner (AP)
In-form prop Ellis Genge registered England’s first try after patient play in the corner (AP)

On the pitch the action was bruising and fast after a confident start from England that resulted in two Owen Farrell penalties, but with a lack of real try-scoring opportunities aside from Joe Marchant, who was put in following a superb Tom Curry break only to be denied by a phenomenal tackle from Marika Koroibete.

At the other end, prop Angus Bell and No8 Rob Valetini combined well, but the Wallabies were driven back before the punishments for Swain and Hill.

Farrell - back in the side after injury but not captain, with that honour going to Courtney Lawes - pushed a third first-half penalty for England wide left, a miss that would prove to be crucial to the final scoreline. Australia went in at the break level despite Swain’s red after a second penalty from Lolesio that followed a superb Rob Leota run and Curry infringement.

Lolesio book-ended half-time with penalties, but England quickly upped the tempo and physicality with Hill’s return from the sin bin and Lewis Ludlam wreaking havoc after replacing Curry at the interval.

They got their reward when Genge went over for his fourth international try in the right corner after a patient approach with a couple of rollling mauls.

Hooker Folau Fainga’a notched either side of tries from Jordan Petaia and Pete Samu (Getty Images)
Hooker Folau Fainga’a notched either side of tries from Jordan Petaia and Pete Samu (Getty Images)

Farrell missed a tough conversion but Australia remained firmly under the pump, with try-saving interventions from Neville - their fourth-oldest ever debutant - and captain Michael Hooper near the line before Farrell slotted over another penalty to stretch the lead to 14-9 with 20 minutes remaining.

But Australia simply would not lie down, scoring their first try through Jordan Petaia - the early replacement for Banks - after a wonderfully incisive attack.

Billy Vunipola then saw yellow for head contact with a high tackle deemed passive enough to save him from following Swain, which only spurred on the hosts further.

Substitute hooker Folau Fainga’a dived over from close range after England had initially disrupted a rolling maul but not been alert to the second danger, with Australia then standing firm on their own line after a Jack Nowell-led break and showing their new-found confidence at scrum-time - so long their Achilles heel against the English.

Loose forward Samu notched what would prove to be a decisive third and final try, stepping off his right foot and weaving around Ludlam after strong carrying from Lolesio and Samu Kerevi.

Henry Arundell scored off the bench for England with his first touch in senior international rugby (AP)
Henry Arundell scored off the bench for England with his first touch in senior international rugby (AP)

England were suddenly in disarray, but did at least get a late spark off the bench from a pair of debutants as London Irish starlet Arundell - technically classed as an ‘apprentice’ player on tour who was deemed unlikely to be capped - broke free with a powerful run down the left flank and touched down a trademark try with his first touch in senior international rugby.

He almost weaved his way in for a second after Lolesio went to the bin for a deliberate knock-on, but instead Leicester scrum-half Van Poortvliet was on hand to finish.

Farrell converted both tries, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a famous Australian victory and leave England stewing on yet another defeat ahead of next weekend’s second encounter at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

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