England extended their record sequence of victories here at HQ to 17, but for the second week in a row it was a desperately close run thing against one of the southern hemisphere superpowers.
Again, as against the All Blacks, Clive Woodward's men were outscored on tries, with Australia notching up three in a devastating spell of seven minutes either side of the half-time interval. But two tries by Ben Cohen and 22 points from the faultless kicking boot of Jonny Wilkinson won England the Cook Cup for the third successive year, 32-31.
England's captain, Martin Johnson, collected the cut-glass trophy as a breathless 75,000 crowd contemplated another case of England cutting it fine. They had allowed a lead of 16-6 to be rudely reversed to 28-16 in favour of the Wallabies after a couple of tries for the world champions by their inside centre, Elton Flatley, and another for the former rugby league star Wendell Sailor. At that point, Johnson's captaincy counterpart, George Gregan, was doubtless considering his 21,400-mile global trek in midweek to be at the birth of his second child a journey well made.
But Wilkinson's penalty goals – six of them by the end – and his conversion of Cohen's try set up by a pass from the new hero James Simpson-Daniel in the 69th minute were just enough. Dawson, one of six England players who had captained their country, paid tribute to the leadership qualities throughout the side. "This is the first time I've either seen or played in an England side capable of coming back from a couple of scores behind. A lot of people might have expected us to fling the ball around but we stuck to the game plan."
Woodward admitted he had dispatched a message of "calm down" when the going was getting tough, but gave credit to both sides for a "ferocious" effort. "I'm just so relieved to have won," said the coach. "We seemed to be cruising it in the first half but there were 10 minutes of madness that put us in a difficult situation. To come back the way we did is a huge boost to the team."
Although the Wallabies rued a long-range penalty miss from Matt Burke that might have won the match in the last few minutes, they will be entitled to expect better when the teams meet again down under next June – or even perhaps a year and five days from today, when the World Cup final takes place in Sydney.
For now the northern hemisphere are revelling in the comforts of home. Scotland made it five wins out of five for the north in the autumn fixtures when they beat South Africa for the first time since 1969. Second-half tries by the flanker Budge Pountney and young wing Nikki Walker contributed to a 21-6 submersion of the Springboks at Murrayfield.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies