England earned their biggest ever victory over Australia when they beat Michael Cheika’s men 30-6 at Twickenham last month. It was England’s fifth victory in a row over the Aussies, and provided welcome respite for the country’s sports fans.
Joe Root and co have been humbled in the Ashes, while Australia beat England in rugby league’s World Cup final recently, so the rugby union team is a rare source of pride.
However, England still trail 25-23 in the all-time stakes as there have been some superb Australian teams throughout history. It is typically a cracking contest when these two meet, and here are five of the best encounters:
Australia 12-6 England, November 1991
Both teams reached the 1991 World Cup final in dominant fashion as Australia surged past the All-Blacks and England destroyed all comers with an attritional, forward-dominated game. However, public criticism of their dull tactics inspired England to adopt a more expansive style for the final. It was ostensibly designed to unsettle the Australians, but it failed, possibly because the team had little time to practice it. Australia had already beaten England that summer and led 9-0 at half-time thanks to excellent defensive resilience. Jonathan Webb slotted in a couple of second-half penalties, but Australia held out for a deserved victory in a nail-biting game at Twickenham.
England 25-22 Australia, June 1995
England gained sweet revenge on Australia in the next World Cup as a 45-metre drop goal from Rob Andrew gave them an injury-time win in a pulsating quarter-final clash. England started on the front foot and Australia could not live with the strength of their pack and a converted try from Tony Underwood gave them a 16-6 lead at the break. However, the Aussies came flying out of the blocks in the second half and were level within minutes after Damian Smith touched down. From there on out, Andrew and Michael Lynagh traded kicks while the forwards engaged in a series of titanic clashes. It was 22-22 as the game crept into extra time and Dewi Morris launched the ball to Andrew, who kept his cool to blaze over a sensational drop goal and give his side the victory.
Australia 76-0 England, June 1998
Australia were utterly rampant as they dismantled an inexperienced England side in Brisbane, handing the visitors their worst defeat in history. England’s trip to the southern hemisphere was the tour from hell as they lost all seven games, including matches against the likes of New Zealand Maori and New Zealand Rugby Academy, but this was by far the most humiliating.
Johnny Wilkinson made his international debut in inauspicious circumstances (more on him later) alongside debutants Spencer Brown, Steve Ravenscroft, Ben Sturnham, Scott Benton and Richard Pool-Jones. England were thoroughly outclassed from the off and Australia went on to secure their heaviest victory ever, recording 11 tries. Matt Burke gave 19-year-old Wilkinson a lesson in kicking, while Toutai Kefu and Ben Tune were magnificent.
England 20-17 Australia, November 2003
By 2003, Wilkinson had established himself as the greatest fly-half in the world and was England’s most potent weapon throughout the World Cup. He helped England coast through to the final, scoring 23 points as they beat Wales 28-17 in the quarter-final and then claiming every single point with his boot in a 24-17 win over France in the semis. Australia, on course for a final showdown with England, were clearly rattled by his exemplary kicking and the Sydney Morning Herald ran an iconic front page, showing Wilkinson in familiar crouch-mode as he prepared to kick, captioned: “Is This All You’ve Got?” To which The Mirror in England retorted with a front page of its own, showing Kylie Minogue’s derriere and asking the exact same question.
The final was a ferocious affair as the Wallabies rattled the English pack from the off and took the lead after Tote Laquiri outjumped Jason Robinson to catch Stephen Larkham’s crossfield kick and touch down. However, three Wilkinson kicks and a Robinson try gave England a commanding lead at half-time. England dominated possession after the break but could not add to their tally as Wilkinson missed two drop goal attempts.
Australia clawed their way back into the game through Elton Flatley’s boot, and the match headed into extra-time. Tensions were high as the game went into the final minute, but with the scores level at 17-17 history repeated itself: Wilkinson, Andrew’s protégé, received the ball and calmly slotted over with just 23 seconds left on the clock. Cue rapturous celebrations in England and utter dejection Down Under.
England 44-40 Australia
England had arguably their best ever year in 2016 as they went unbeaten, won a Six Nations Grand Slam and whitewashed Australia Down Under. This was their sternest test of 2016 and they needed their largest ever points total against the Wallabies to finally secure a victory. Bernard Foley enjoyed a sensational first-half for the hosts, scoring a try and kicking well, but they only led by a point at the break thanks to tries from Dan Cole and Mike Brown. Billy Vunipola got on the score sheet for England in the second half, but Michael Hooper and Israel Folau crossed for Australia. Owen Farrell kept the visitors in touch with his boot and Jamie Hodge’s try and more strong kicking from Farrell gave England a fantastic win, making it 3-0 in the series.
Anyone looking at the sports spread betting would have done well by buying on total points, but it was a positively nerve-shredding for fans. This was a real see-saw game, an epic clash and a great advertisement for rugby union as it really had everything.
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and has been covering international rugby for several years.