Jonny Wilkinson’s penalty sealed a 21-20 success on the same ground where the England fly-half’s extra-time drop goal secured victory in the 2003 World Cup final over Australia. It was only the third time that England have beaten Australia Down Under and the first victory against a Tri-Nations team since Johnson’s reign began in 2008.
The England manager had to endure criticism after poor autumn and RBS Six Nations campaigns, before last week’s 27-17 first Test defeat against Australia in Perth cast further doubt on his future in the job.
Johnson said he has never contemplated quitting and insists any criticism from outside the camp will not affect his management of the team.
He said: “I never came close to thinking about packing it in. Not seriously. Never.
“When you’re being criticised you just get on with it and get through it.
“You judge yourself and I’m my harshest critic. My coaches will tell me if I’m doing things wrong and that’s the way it should work.”
Johnson may have never considered his future, but the knives were being sharpened after England’s defeat in Perth left them with a record of just eight wins from 22 Tests.
Both of Johnson’s immediate predecessors Andy Robinson and Brian Ashton lost their jobs despite boasting a better success rate than 36%.
Nick Easter had said after last weekend’s defeat that the squad were “sick and tired” of learning lessons from bad results and having to try to convince the public they were improving even if results suggested otherwise.
And they began to prove that in Sydney on Saturday. The visitors led 15-13 at half-time after first Test tries for scrum-half Ben Youngs and wing Chris Ashton.
Matt Giteau replied with two tries for the hosts either side of the interval. But penalties from Toby Flood and his replacement Jonny Wilkinson put England back in front, and they survived two Giteau missed penalties to squeak home.
Hooker Steve Thompson was pleased to right some wrongs: “It means everything to win and pull the England shirt on, it feels great to bounce back and prove people wrong. I love doing that.
“Some people in certain areas have totally written us off this week, we went out there and showed we’re not just one-paced. When your backs are against the wall and you come out fighting, that’s very satisfying.”
Johnson is also bringing through a new generation of players, sometimes slower than his critics would like, but the inclusion of scrum-half Ben Youngs and lock Courtney Lawes was a masterstroke.
Dan Cole and Tom Croft both caught the eye up front while Ben Foden is establishing himself in the team after breaking into the side in full-back jersey during the Six Nations.
Foden said: “That was my greatest day as a rugby player.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to beat Australia. There’s only one bigger stage to do it and that’s the World Cup and we’re building towards that now.”
Lewis Moody looks set to retain the England captaincy on a permanent basis from the oft-criticised Steve Borthwick, after being hailed for his leadership in the win.
Moody led England to an improved performance against France in the Six Nations and then to victory on Saturday, with the only disappointment being the performance in last week’s 27-17 first Test defeat.
AUSTRALIA: J O’Connor; D Ioane, R Horne, M Giteau, D Mitchell; Q Cooper, W Genia; B Daley, S Faingaa, S Ma’afu, D Mumm, N Sharpe, R Elsom (capt), D Pocock, R Brown.
Replacements: H Edmonds for Faingaa (72), J Slipper for Ma’afu, (53), M Chisholm for Mumm (54), A Ashley-Cooper for Ioane (63).
ENGLAND: B Foden; M Cueto, M Tindall, S Hape, C Ashton; T Flood, B Youngs; T Payne, S Thompson, D Cole, C Lawes, T Palmer, T Croft, L Moody (capt), N Easter.
Replacements: G Chuter for Thompson (71), D Wilson for Cole, (5-12), for Payne (71), S Shaw for Lawes (58), D Care for Youngs (66), J Wilkinson for Flood (50), D Armitage for Tindall (68).
Referee: Romain Poite (France).