England regularly forced themselves to within a fingertip of a telling breakthrough but were unable to cast off the weight of Australia's domination of the last 20 years. But no one should doubt the quality of their contribution to the World Cup.
The one gap that could not be disguised was that which separates the playing standards of the two countries. England did more than enough, especially in winning the opening match of the World Cup here four weeks ago, to bring 66,500 fans to Wembley with every confidence of a thriller.
No one would have been disappointed either with the teamwork or with some excellent individual performances, the choice of which was that of Andrew Johns, Australia's hooker and the man of the match.
England's cause did not suffer by the late inclusion of Wigan's Gary Connolly, who six weeks ago was in hospital with pneumonia. The intention was to play him for only 50 minutes but he stayed on the entire game and some of his tackles were so fierce the Australians might have suspected he was wearing an iron lung.
Indeed there was less danger to Connolly than there was some of his colleagues, who could have caught their deaths while standing in the draught of some of Australia's running.
There was the inevitable controversy with which English fans would have consoled themselves. Martin Offiah embarked on one of his thrillingly impulsive runs in the first half. He was eventually caught by the Australian full-back, Tim Brasher, but appeared to flick the ball back before he disappeared over the touchline and Paul Newlove kicked the ball ahead to score a try that was quickly disallowed because the linesman ruled Offiah in touch.
Before England's hopes were realistically extinguished with 14 minutes to go by a scrambling try from Brasher there were many such moments that might have tilted the game's balance.
England had opened up very confidently, but their assertive start had an immediate reward when an Australian defence put in disarray by the belligerent running of Jason Robinson yielded a penalty with which Bobbie Goulding gave England a fifth-minute lead. But direct from the resulting kick-off England made the concession that was to usher Australia into the game.
Phil Clarke tried to deaden Johns' kick-off with his boot and the ball span away. England were enveloped in a flood of green shirts and, which probed to the right of England's thin defence before Jeff Toovey switched direction with a long pass to Johns, whose kick arrowed behind England for Rod Wishart to beat Robinson narrowly for the try.
England recovered with another Goulding penalty that was helped in by the post, but England indiscipline led to a spate of penalties and Australia might have been further ahead at the interval. But there was a six-point deficit to overcome and when Newlove set about reducing it immediately after the interval England hopes soared to their highest point of the afternoon.
The England stand-off Tony Smith was pulled down by Toovey after a promising burst and from the play-the-ball Newlove got possession and bruised his way over for a try that brought England within two points.
Australia, however, then began one of the surest portions of their performance, piercing the England line with brilliant runs from Brasher and the deadly Steve Menzies. England's resistance was creaking like an old oak.
Goulding tried to push Australia back with some well-judged kicks but, inevitably, came the breakthrough that sends the World Cup to Australia. Johns, not unexpectedly, was at the heart of the movement that buckled the England defence a few yards to the left of their posts. The Australian hooker was well tackled as he made for the line but as he fell he brilliantly flicked the ball back for Brasher to kick it on.
The full-back Kris Radlinski failed to collect and Brasher scrambled on his hands and knees to score. It was ironic that a game of such flowing movement should be settled by something as ungainly, but it was enough.
England: Radlinski, Robinson, Connolly (all Wigan), Newlove (Bradford), Offiah (Wigan), Smith (Castleford), Goulding (St Helens), Harrison (Halifax), Jackson (Sheffield), Platt (Auckland), Betts (Auckland), Clarke (Sydney City Roosters), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes: Cassidy for Harrison (30), Harrison for Platt (61), mins, Joynt for Cassidy (69), Platt for Harrison (71).
Australia: Brasher (Sydney Tigers), Wishart (Illawarra), Coyne (St George), Hill (Manly), Dallas (Sydney Bulldogs), Fittler (Penrith), Toovey (Manly), Pay (Sydney Bulldogs), A Johns (Newcastle), Carroll, Menzies (both Manly), Larson (North Sydney), Dymock (Sydney Bulldogs). Substitutes: Smith (blood) for Carroll (50), Carroll for Smith (61), Smith for Pay (75).
Referee: Stuart Cummings (England).Reuse content