LONDON (AP) — After waiting two and a half years to welcome back Manu Tuilagi, England found a new powerful star in Joe Cokanasiga.
Tuilagi made his long-awaited international return coming off the bench as England secured a sixth straight rugby victory over Australia for the first time with a 37-18 thrashing at Twickenham on Saturday.
But by the time the center made it onto the field for the final 12 minutes, Cokanasiga had scored his second try in as many England appearances to all but end the contest against a weary Australia.
“He’s just starting,” England coach Eddie Jones said. “He’s still got his training pants on.”
Each of England’s back three scored tries as the hosts responded to giving up a 10-point first-half lead with a dominant second-half performance.
Jonny May gave England the lead with a third-minute try, and two Owen Farrell penalties made it 13-3 six minutes before halftime.
However, a fine run and score from fullback Israel Folau brought Australia back into contention and Matt To’omua added a penalty to level the scores at the interval.
Stung, England took control afterwards through scores from Elliot Daly and Cokanasiga, and Farrell added a try of his own four minutes from the end and converted for 37-13.
Folau got his second try with the final play of the match, but it was of little consolation for an Australia side which has recorded its lowest win rate for a calendar year — four wins in 13 tests — since 1974.
“It’s been a tough year,” Australia captain Michael Hooper said. “We have to take the tough lessons and move on.”
With a narrow defeat to New Zealand the only blemish during four internationals in November, England appears back on track for next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
“This series was just another step forward, and the Six Nations will be another step forward,” Jones predicted.
England made a flying start as Ben Youngs charged down Dane Haylett-Petty’s clearance in the opening minute. Mark Wilson and Youngs moved scrum ball to May to touch down in the corner for his 18th test try, taking him into the top 10 on England’s all-time list.
Daly was short on a long-range penalty kick and England, which gave up nine first-half turnovers, almost gifted Australia a try with one of them.
Will Genia intercepted Ben Te’o’s pass in the midfield, but couldn’t find Haylett-Petty for an easy score. Australia appeared to have made up for the error moments later when Haylett-Petty touched down in the corner, but the score was ruled out when referee Jaco Peyper saw video of a forward pass in the move on the big screen.
Australia responded with a legitimate score at 13-3 down when Folau ran a fine angle from midfield to go over under the crossbar.
Australia could have taken the lead as lock Izack Rodda was denied a try by a thudding Farrell tackle that could have been penalized, but then settled for another To’omua penalty to level.
“The justification that Rodda tried to take him on with his shoulder is ridiculous,” Australia coach Michael Cheika said. “That’s what you do when you carry the ball.”
England took better care of the ball after the break and was rewarded as Farrell offloaded to Daly, who used his speed and agility to evade Australians for a try just four minutes after halftime.
Cokanasiga then followed up his try on debut against Japan last week. After dismissing a tackle attempt from his opposite number, the big-framed wing raced under the crossbar and Farrell converted for 27-13.
A perceived weakness of England’s backline in recent times has been a lack of size, particularly with Tuilagi’s long-term injury woes. But on this occasion there was no lack of thunderous running, as Cokanasiga almost scored again with a powerful break from midfield moments later.
Near time, England set up Farrell for a simple score and conversion to make it 24 points without response in the second half.
“First half, we had opportunities to probably get a bit further ahead than we were,” Jones said. “We allowed them back in the game and they got a bit of confidence and then we were able in the second half to regroup and play in a real English way.”
Bernard Foley’s grubber kick netted Folau his second try, but the score was merely a footnote on a dominant display that confirmed England had recovered from a six-match losing streak this year.
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