When the talk dies down, all you have is action and when it came to that, England took the honours on Saturday, beating Australia 37-21 in their final 2016 Test.
In an electric contest in front of 81,787 at Twickenham, the Wallabies burst out of the blocks, catching the English by surprise but it was England who had the last laugh, as the Wallabies finished 2016 with the second lowest winning percentage (40 per cent) of any Australian team in the professional era, ironically behind Eddie Jones’ 2005 side (38 per cent).
The desperation to move the ball quickly from the ruck was clear from the outset, Nick Phipps scrambling to keep their momentum alive.
Australia’s defensive desire nearly helped Tevita Kuridrani to his own Grand Slam, but a David Pocock knock-on as he foiled an Owen Farrell attacking effort on the try line, meant the fifth-minute score was disallowed on review.
There was no such recall when Sefa Naivalu scored just a minute later, with the winger taking advantage of an overlap, finishing off a strong Wallabies attack out of the back of their scrum.
The set piece that became the buzz of the week was firmly in the Wallabies’ hands early in, with that first penalty for England collapsing the scrum and Naivalu’s try founded off a Wallabies tighthead as well.
A close-range Foley penalty made it 10-0 within 15 minutes, before England’s Owen Farrell narrowed the gap four minutes later with his own three-pointer.
Their freneticism cost them at times, as it has through 2016, with a hasty recycle attempt coming loose, pounced on by England, making it a three-on-one foot race between England winger Marland Yarde and Australia’s backs, one that winger Dane Haylett-Petty ultimately won in-goal.
A second Farrell penalty made the gap just four points as the tempo began to settle, thought he intensity did not fade.
Another loose ball gave England outside centre Jonathn an opportunistic try, his first of two for the match as England snatched the lead for the first time at the half-hour mark, before Foley evened up the scores five minutes later.
Foley gave the Wallabies the advantage at the break, with a 39th minute penalty that kept Australia’s noses just ahead.
England speedster Yarde just beat out Folau in the 45th minute to score England’s second try and reclaim the lead, at the beginning of a gritty second period.
Scrumhalf Ben Youngs pounced on a sluggish Australia defence in the 51st minute, to run away with the third for the home side and open up a nine-point gap on the Wallabies.
Another Farrell penalty stretched the gap to 14 points with just 23 minutes to go and the momentum was clearly in England’s corner.
Tighthead Sekope Kepu notched one back, igniting Australia’s hope once more after a 17-phase effort from the Wallabies that took them 80 metres.
That hope was quickly snuffed out after Haylett-Petty was controversially yellow-carded for a late hit on Mike Brown and Joseph added another try with the winger in the bin to seal the England win.
Australia does not play another Test until June next year, while England looks to February’s Six Nations campaign, eyeing off a chance to notch its highest consecutive Test-winning streak of all time.
Tries: Jonathan Joseph 2, Marland Yarde, Ben Youngs
Cons: Owen Farrell 3, George Ford
Pens: Owen Farrell 3
Tries: Sefa Naivalu, Sekope Kepu
Cons: Bernard Foley
Pens: Bernard Foley 3
Yellow cards: Dane Haylett-Petty 72
[Thnaks to ARU/rugby.com.au]