So sweet did victory taste that coach Robbie Deans ranked the Wallabies’ gritty 28-14 victory over England at Twickenham Saturday alongside their stirring Bledisloe Cup triumph over his native New Zealand earlier this year.
There was no major gloating or talk of revenge for last year’s humiliating World Cup quarter-final loss in France, more a palpable sense of relief among the Wallabies that they’d answered their critics after a week’s condemnation of their scrum in the British press.
“I’m delighted for the boys. They put in and they got the reward, not only in the set piece but also around the ground,” Deans said after an inspired second-half revival and a record goalkicking performance from five-eighth Matt Giteau earned the Wallabies their first win over England at rugby’s spiritual home since 2004.
“A lot was asked of them. It was pretty brutal on the tackle line, but they just kept turning up.”
Forced to effect twice as many tackles as England, the Wallabies refused to yield after falling behind 14-12 in the 51st minute.
And it was Australia’s often ridiculed pack that fuelled the fightback.
In a powerful display, the Wallabies forwards – led up front by Al Baxter and Benn Robinson and hooker and man of the match Stephen Moore – shoved England off their own ball twice in the game.
Even more tellingly, and in the most welcome of changes, the Wallabies were awarded two scrum penalties from South African referee Marius Jonker, an unimaginable scenario pre-match.
Deans had feared Jonker, like so many other officials before him, might punish the Wallabies for any scrum malfunctions.
Instead, it was England loosehead Andrew Sheridan, the architect of England’s Marseille massacre, who was caned.
Sheridan cut a dejected figure after being replaced with 13 minutes remaining, his pride battered and his side’s once vaunted scrum on its knees.
“We had confidence in our scrum for good reasons because it’s well proven this year … for anyone who’s interested in looking,” Deans said.
“The reality is, the performance of today is unlikely to change opinions. But that’s fine. As long as people have opinions, that’s good. (It means) there’s interest in the game.
“I guess the one thing that’s rewarding for these blokes is that they had a moment they enjoyed.”
In the end, there was only one try for the visitors, to fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper in the 68th minute, but Giteau’s 20-point haul from a conversion and six penalties – equalling Michael Lynagh’s tally as the most by an Australian in a Test against England – was the direct result of the Wallabies’ clear domination of the opposition pack.
“I’m so pleased for every one of the forwards because effectively they’ve buried a demon today,” said Wallabies scrum doctor Michael Foley.
“They were outstanding. I’m just so rapt for them, particularly for someone like Al (Baxter), who’s been maligned for so long.
“And Stephen (Moore) went through a very difficult period last year with the quarter-final and to come here and play the way they did was just fantastic for them.”
Skipper Stirling Mortlock insisted the victory was no pay back for Australia’s shattering loss to England 13 months ago.
“No, history is history,” he said. “This group’s all about moving forward.”
Deans merely hoped the backs-to-the-wall triumph would prove a defining one for his evolving Wallabies and urged his charges not to let up against France next Saturday in Paris.
“The good thing for us today is that we were ahead at halftime – just – and we got home,” Deans said.
“In a couple of recent outings against the All Blacks we’ve been ahead at halftime and haven’t got home.
“Where we’ve had a tendency when we’ve been under the hammer to recede, they stepped up.”