England, booed off at half-time, earned a standing ovation at the end of the 80 minutes after an improvement that gives them hope that they can beat Australia if they meet them again in the final of the Gillette Four Nations in two weeks' time. On their way to a demoralising thrashing, they played the last 40 minutes like a team who thought they could win.
Inspired by the performances of their substitutes, Eorl Crabtree, Sam Burgess and Kyle Eastmond, they outshone Australia, who had earlier threatened to rip them to shreds.
"We had a talk at half-time," said England's coach, Tony Smith, "we didn't like the situation and we didn't like the scoreboard. We're disappointed because we left ourselves too much to do, but we had a couple of opportunities that could have made it an even closer game."
England showed early signs of being able to match Australia in the forwards. But as soon as the ball went wide it was a different, if familiar, story. After four minutes, Johnathan Thurston and Darren Lockyer threw long passes, Greg Inglis charged through and Lockyer was inside him to complete a classic back-line try.
Jamie Peacock then lost the ball in a tackle and Australia went to the other end to score through Billy Slater, who made it two tries in three minutes when he capitalised on Anthony Watmough's pass to Justin Hodges.
Every mistake England made was punished, as when Danny McGuire's pass bounced off Sam Burgess and Inglis went 80 metres for the fourth try. Another fumble by Burgess, plus a penalty, put England under pressure again. There was an air of inevitability as Luke Lewis and the awesome Inglis combined to put Brett Morris over.
The first sign that they were a different side after the break came when Burgess took Kevin Sinfield's pass and reached over. He came close to scoring a second try from McGuire's kick, and the momentum remained with England as the crowd got behind them.
One of Crabtree's strong drives set up their second try, Eastmond and Sam Tomkins getting to ball to Gareth Ellis. When Thurston was sin-binned for holding on in the tackle and Lee Smith went over in the corner from Eastmond's pass, England wished the game was 10 minutes longer. As it is, they just have the small matter of New Zealand to negotiate next week to give them the chance to show they can take on Australia for the whole of a match.
World champions New Zealand went to the top of the Four Nations table with a 62-12 victory in Toulouse over a severely depleted French side who competed well in the first half but faded badly in the second. Sam Perrett was the Kiwis' man of the match with a hat-trick of tries.
England S Briscoe; T Briscoe, L Smith, Shenton, Hall; McGuire, Tomkins; Morley, Roby, Graham, Peacock, Ellis, Sinfield.
Substitutes used: Crabtree, Westwood, Eastmond, Burgess.
Australia Slater; Morris, Inglis, Hodges, Hayne; Lockyer, Thurston; Hannant, C Smith, Civoniceva, Watmough, Gallen, Hindmarsh. Substitutes used: Farah, Lewis, White, Shillington.
Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).