This was the performance that had it all – with the exception of a couple of well-deserved tries for the men in white.
Sometimes the scoreboard does lie and the fact that England were unable to cross the whitewash should not disguise the fact that they played some scintillating rugby against the world champions. At times during the first half they gave a master class in total rugby – a modern day teach.com with the mighty Wallabies in the unaccustomed role of pupils.
Two features stood out with startling clarity from the match. The way England were able to mix up their game was matched only by the manner in which they never allowed the ball carrier to get isolated.
They went through any number of phases of play and yet you never felt they were in danger of turning the ball over to their opponents. Jonny Wilkinson's penalties and field goals were just rewards for periods of running rugby which were the equal of anything which has been seen at Twickenham for many years.
It put the Wallabies under so much pressure that they were bound to infringe and the Newcastle pivot kept stepping up to do the necessary.
Up-front the English eight dominated for two-thirds of the game. With the exception of the hooker, Dorian West, they were virtually error-free in the loose, but they were also efficient in the tight phases.
As a result the Australians had to defend narrow and wide with inevitable difficulty. Such is the way of modern rugby – you cannot pose a threat in one area alone simply because the defences are too well organised. To mix it at the very top of the world game you need to have variety. England have that – in spades.
The Wallabies took an age to get into the game - mainly because they could not secure their ball in the first half whilst England gave away precious few turn-overs. In the last quarter the Australians showed their calibre and the fact that England chose not to use any of their substitutes meant that the world champions were able to outpace them. Two tries were a fair reward but by then they were chasing the game.
Until 60 minutes or so they could do no more than rely on their outstanding defence. Time and again they kept out the white-shirted attackers and just about managed to retain their composure. In the last few minutes of the first period they looked rattled and out on their feet; but crucially they did not concede a five-pointer. In modern parlance they toughed it out and kept themselves alive – just.
They are an excellent side but they can have no complaints about their defeat – until the very last few minutes of the game they were well beaten.
Which begs the question of why England came so badly unstuck in Dublin three weeks ago. Clive Woodward may well be right when he points to the disruption of the Lions' tour and the lack of a warm-up game. However, he might also care to look at something of a pattern that may be emerging.
At Twickenham, England are comfortable and relaxed – absolutely vital qualities if you aim to play the ambitious game that they aspire to. In less-familiar surroundings they can come apart at the scenes. Perhaps the next stage for their development will involve a slight adjustment in their style when they play away from home. However on such a day – with Ben Kay and Joe Worsley adding to the ever-growing list of options up front and Jason Robinson looking more and more comfortable in his club position of full-back – this may justifiably be seen as no more than quibbling.
Certainly the balance of the team looks excellent. With Kyran Bracken at scrum-half, the team have more snap and Phil Vickery brings a running option into the front three which no other England tight-head prop can get near. With the likes of Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jason Leonard, Matt Dawson, Matt Perry, Iain Balshaw, Phil Greening and Simon Shaw not on the pitch – or in some cases anywhere near Twickenham – these are heady days indeed for English rugby.Reuse content