ANALYSIS: How England’s hard labour set them free, and what this win means for their future

Australians are well aware that errant Poms used to be sent to their shores to endure a spot of hard labour and learn lessons for their misdemeanours.

Their sporting successors played to that script on this rather patchy, fractured but ultimately satisfying series. They suffered, they faltered, they recovered.

England came back from what might have been a terminal blow to morale when losing the first Test in Perth to win in Brisbane and Sydney, not exactly gimmes as venues in any code of football.

They may be far from the quality of side that triumphed in the southern hemisphere in 2003 prior to landing the Big One a few months later but this generation have come off the canvas following yet another inadequate Six Nations campaign to deliver a couple of telling blows.

They are nowhere near being nailed-on world-beating contenders but they are, at least, in the ball game again. You don’t fluke series wins in this part of the world.

Join The Roar experts Brett McKay, Harry Jones and Jim Tucker for their verdict on the third Test

While it’s true that comparisons with earlier events in Wellington would not be at all flattering – bread n’ water gruel to set against the champagne and caviar fare on offer at the Cake Tin – England have toughed it out on the scoreboard and also developed several players that will surely be prominent in white for several years to come.

The likes of fullback Freddie Steward, king of the skies yet again, wings, Tommy Freeman and, at some point, Henry Arundell, half-backs, Marcus Smith, who had his best match of the tour, his opportunist, fast-heeled try the icing, and Jack van Poortvilet.

Why oh why did Eddie Jones drop the young Leicester No.9 to the bench in favour of Danny Care only to unceremoniously hook the Harlequin off the field after 37 minutes?

International coaches sometimes have too much time to think and tinker. Van Poortvilet was terrific at Suncorp and showed that sort of form when he came on at the SCG. Jones was ruthless in what he did (as he has been before) although never quite holding his own hands up to admit that he got selection wrong in the first place.

There are a number of plus points that England can declare as they pass through Heathrow in the coming days, notably a change of captaincy. After an injury afflicted season, it appeared that the switch of armband from Owen Farrell to Courtney Lawes might just be a stop-gap appointment. Well, so much for that theory.

Lawes has been a revelation, in a typically laid-back sort of way, bringing his own brand of down-to-earth, hard-edged attitude to the group. England looked to be in decent spirits no matter that they were on the back foot after starting off with a whimper on the west coast. Lawes, along with the likes of Ellis Genge, another to have finished the trip in some credit, has managed to instil a feeling of camaraderie as well as toughness in the squad, crucially getting Jones to trust the players more and let them take responsibility.

You saw that at the SCG. England were ordinary in the first half and defied the run of play in going into the break with an 11-10 lead following a late try by Steward. At this juncture of a northern hemisphere season, particularly after a Lions tour last summer, heads can drop easily as bodies tire. Instead it was England who grew stronger, especially from the bench where the arrivals of hooker Luke Cowan Dickie, prop Mako Vunipola and lock Nick Isiekwe, were particularly impactful.

England will not get carried away by the series triumph, uplifting as it will be. They know that there were errors in their play, stodginess in their attack, occasional lapses in defence. Their pack was workmanlike rather than dominant. The maul was not as purposeful as it had been in Brisbane but it did enough. But they are back in business as far as results are concerned and that will stand them in good stead as the one-year countdown gun sounds shortly for the World Cup.

Courtney Lawes of England and teammates celebrate victory with the Ella-Mobbs Cup during game three of the International Test match series between the Australia Wallabies and England at the Sydney Cricket Ground on July 16, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Courtney Lawes of England and teammates celebrate victory with the Ella-Mobbs Cup. (Photo by Jason McCawley – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

The justifiable question marks that were being raised against Jones continuing through to the tournament in France have now been stilled. Eddie had been feted during the week on his old stomping ground in and around Coogee. That love may be short-lived, (and Jones has as many critics in his homeland as has accumulated in England over the last 12 months), but it will do him good.

He knows that this is far from a vintage Wallaby side, one that was severely handicapped by injury across the opening Tests, and that France and Ireland are still setting the standards.

Australia were far more engaged and direct than they had been in Brisbane, newbie Nick Frost showing well up front while Tom Wright was causing problems behind. The Wallabies did not capitalise on their advantage, though, fretting and fumbling, allowing England breathing space.

It’s been a engrossing three week stint across the southern hemisphere with the north bouncing back from initial set-backs to set up mouth-watering finales in Wellington, Sydney, Cape Town and Santiago del Estero. It made for great viewing.

Enjoy it while you can as World Rugby has decided to set up a global Nations championship with one-off Tests in the July and November windows. As ever, rugby spends too much time meddling, with its laws and with its structures. (As a minor aside, how stupid did it look having water breaks midway through each half with the thermometer in Sydney under 10C? Perhaps they thought the game was being played in London where we await a 40C heatwave).

There has been real tension surrounding these Saturday fixtures. The new-fangled Nations Championship will be doing well if it manages to recreate that. I have my doubts.

England, then, return to sunny uplands, far, far from a finished article with doubts still about their best midfield line-up but in buoyant spirits. As for Australia, well at least the Kiwis are hurting even more.

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