England dismissed any lingering doubts surrounding its Rugby World Cup credentials with a dominant 40-16 victory over Australia to reach the semifinals.
After enduring some early Australian pressure, two first-half tries in quick succession from Jonny May handed England control of the match and despite an early flourish from the Wallabies at the start of the second half, a flurry of late points secured England an emphatic victory.
“I was pleased with how the players stuck at the game,” England coach Eddie Jones told ITV after the match. “The first 20 minutes Australia had 75% possession, were moving the ball well and we had to defend.
“We hung in there, got some momentum back and took a couple of good opportunities which put us in a good position. They came back through an error of ours and it was one of those ‘bring it on’ moments – and we stuck at it and I thought it was great.
“We’re so excited about the semifinal, we can go there and challenge whoever we play and see where we can go with this team, we haven’t been at our best yet and we need to see if we can find our best. I thought the players were outstanding.”
England had beaten Australia in all of the sides’ last six meetings, not tasting defeat since that painful night in London four years ago.
That day Australia won 33-13 as England became the first host nation to exit the Rugby World Cup at the pool stages.
Those in white were once again heavy favorites on Saturday, though in a World Cup quarterfinal much of the notion of underdogs and favorites disappears.
Australia got off to a blistering start, just what coach Michael Cheika had ordered before kick off, and the opening period provided a stern test of England’s defense.
Kurtley Beale drew the first deafening roar from the crowd, breaking through England’s lines in a move that eventually resulted in a penalty and the first points of the match.
However, that would be as good as it got for Australia in the first half, as two converted tries in the space of two minutes from England swung the match firmly in its favor.
Both came courtesy of May; the first arrived after a solid period of sustained, clinical England pressure, but the second was thanks to some individual brilliance from Henry Slade.
After intercepting Will Genia’s loose pass, Slade threaded a delightful kick into May’s path and the England wing scooped the ball up and dived over the line.
There was little reaction from May – who had led the team out on his 50th international cap – following the first try, but he was unable to contain an explosion of emotion after the second.
The sizable following of England fans in the crowd mimicked his celebration as a wave of white shirt leaped from their seats.
The two teams then exchanged penalties, before Australia scored another just on the half-time gong and, despite England’s dominance, only went into the break eight points down.
Those three late points will have provided the Wallabies with a significant psychological boost and a strong start to the second half had the potential to turn this game on its head.
It took just three minutes for Australia to produce its best moment of the match, capitalizing on some sloppy play from Elliot Daly to give Marika Koroibete the chance to power his way to the line.
The try was duly converted by Christian Lealiifano, who only made his Wallabies return in July following a long battle with leukemia.
But no sooner had Australia reduced the deficit to just one point than England extended it once again, this time through Kyle Sinckler.
The giant prop even slowed down to allow Beale to tackle him, knowing he wouldn’t be able to halt his thundering charge to the line.
Two Owen Farrell penalties, making it seven successful kicks from seven, extended England’s lead to a daunting 14 points with less than 15 minutes remaining.
England had a place in the semifinal within its grasp and the fans sensed it, too, breaking out into the game’s first booming rendition of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,’ that echoed under the closed roof of the Oita Bank Dome.
The emphatic victory was rounded off with yet another Farrell penalty and one last sloppy Australian error allowed Anthony Watson to intercept and score the final try of the match.
Very little had gone the Wallabies’ way on this humid evening and their misery was compounded after Koroibete’s late consolation try was disallowed by referee Jerome Garces for a forward pass.
England will now play the winner of Saturday’s second semifinal between Ireland and New Zealand.