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England go back to basics to beat Australia in second Test at Suncorp

See. All it takes is a change of Prime Minister and suddenly everything looks rosy.

The Suncorp ramparts are stormed (well, for the first half hour at least), white shirts run hard and true as English players are supposed to do, Owen Farrell swings his boot and hits the mark and, wonder of wonders, there is no last quarter collapse.

At this rate the cost of living crisis in the UK will be over by the end of the weekend and England will wrap up the series in Sydney next Saturday. Well, we can but delude ourselves. England do have a chance, of course, of a sporting upturn.

They now have some momentum while the Wallabies are well and truly bashed up, handicapped yet again by untimely injuries. The UK economy, sadly, will not be so easily fixed.

The truth of such matters is that there will be many twists and turns before all sorts of issues are resolved, in sport as well as in politics. England’s impressive back-to-basics display in the opening period had you wondering just who these guys in white actually were, a markedly different outfit to the lot who rolled up the white flag in Perth, bristling, upbeat and on-message.

They didn’t throw a punch seven days ago. Here they had Australia on the ropes even though, perhaps worryingly, they couldn’t quite land the knockout blows. Australia came back and even had a sniff midway through the second half only to go for the glory try rather than take the points on offer. Key calls, small margins and all that.

This victory, significant as it is in both the short as well as the long-term, does not mean that England are now back as serious contenders for World Cup honours in 15 months’ time.

They are still a repair-job in motion rather than a finished article. Eddie Jones may have ludicrously said that the result was not all-important as this was essentially ‘a practice’ for events in France next year, but it was. If England had wobbled again and let the game get away from them in the second half after running up a thoroughly deserved 19-0 lead, the ramifications would have been enormous.

Deep down Jones knew that. He’s also savvy enough to know that no matter how defiant a performer he is in front of the TV cameras and newspaper notebooks, all gobby snarl and withering put-down, the pressure would have ratcheted up. This win gives the team breathing space, Jones too.

The World Cup will look after itself when it eventually comes around. Never mind the nonsense about testing out some young talents such as scrum-half, Jack van Poortvliet, who made an accomplished debut, or the Campoesque Henry Arundell, this performance was far more about re-igniting the fires under the likes of the Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako, of further grooving the partnership of Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith, which was far more effective and productive, and of reminding the entire England pack that they are supposed to be killjoy dullards that smother the life out of the opposition through efficient set-piece, allied to a trusty goal-kicker.

As the Aussie billboards mockingly screamed in 2003 with pictures of a beetle-browed Martin Johnson and a metronomic Jonny Wilkinson, ‘Is That All You’ve Got? ‘

Well, er, yes and wouldn’t either of these teams cherish such forward dominance at the moment? Instead, improved as England were up-front, there is not yet proper consistency in their output.

The scrum is not yet as stable as it would ideally want to be and even though Ellis Genge did set the tone for the whole evening when running through Michael Hooper in the opening minute, there was not the same assuredness in the tight. The English maul, though, will be replaying in their heads one churning 45 metre downfield play around the hour mark that had the Wallabies scrambling.

Injuries hampered both teams and while England have deeper resources than Australia, they will miss Maro Itoje, who Jones said would miss the deciding match.

Itoje had been showing well, concentrating on the job in hand rather than resorting to his childish playground shouty antics. It is the return to form of his Saracens’ teammate, Billy Vunipola, that bodes so well for England.

Billy boy had been in the doldrums for 12-18 months, a shadow of his former self or rather a fattened up version of his former athletic self. Like his club who were relegated for salary cap transgressions, Vunipola has served his time and come back re-energised and re-focused. His presence is a big plus for England.

Billy Vunipola of England runs the ball during game two of the International Test Match series between the Australia Wallabies and England at Suncorp Stadium on July 09, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Billy Vunipola of England runs the ball. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Farrell, too, looked far more accepting of the new order of things, allowing Marcus Smith more rein as the principal playmaker and settling to his role as a genuine inside centre, albeit always alert to possibilities as he showed with a well-executed, perceptive kick-pass to Jack Nowell that almost brought dividends in the second-half.

Onwards to Sydney with England in far better fettle than they were when they arrived on the east coast. Just as it was wrong to sugar-coat the magnitude of the loss against 14 men last weekend so it is only right to salute what is a notable milestone – inflicting a loss on the Wallabies at the Suncorp for the first time in six years.

England have some way to go yet before they can claim to have turned a corner. But, after a calendar year of potholes and unevenness, the road ahead suddenly looks less tricky to navigate.

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