The saving grace for England in a match that did little for the imagination was the power of their front row and the finishing of their wings. In between they found it hard going to crack an Australian team on its worst losing streak since 1968.
A try in the first half by Ben Cohen, his 30th for his country, and another in the second by Mark Cueto, his ninth in as many appearances, was sufficient for England to avenge last autumn's defeat to the Wallabies here but if it gives the impression that this victory was down to an expansive approach, the picture is very misleading.
England's forwards dominated to an embarrassing degree but midway through the second half the score was 16-16 and Australia, even if they had been starved of possession, fancied their chances. This was an indictment of England's blinkered vision, albeit against a side who were desperately hanging on by their fingertips.
Andy Robinson, the England coach, had described Mike Tindall as the "heartbeat of the team". If that is the case they are in urgent need of a pacemaker. Tindall, playing his first international match for 12 months, missed half a dozen tackles and he and Jamie Noon created next to nothing in midfield.
Subtlety is not their game, but if it's biff bang and wallop you're after, they're fine. To be fair to Tindall, he was playing at inside centre, not his usual domain, and he had been out for a year. At stand-off Charlie Hodgson acquitted himself well, not only through his goal-kicking but also in defence where his tackling, on two occasions early in the first half, denied Australia tries.
Hodgson's career, which of late has blossomed as his club Sale have prospered in the Guinness Premiership, has been almost as blighted by injury as that of Jonny Wilkinson. This time last year he failed to go the distance against the Wallabies and England came unstuck in the goal-kicking department.
Yesterday Hodgson was again forced to leave the field, limping off at a crucial stage, but this time England had a kicker up their sleeve in Olly Barkley and he delivered. Hodgson should be OK for next week, when New Zealand visit Twickenham in a match that will be played, at least as far as the All Blacks are concerned, at a far greater pace.
So why did England, against a side who have now lost seven Tests on the trot - the scoreline here was the same as the Aussies experienced when they lost to France in Marseilles last week - not produce more from about 70 per cent possession? One answer is the notorious susceptibility of the Australian front row, a factor which led to an almost farcical final quarter, and another is Matt Dawson.
The Lions scrum-half, one of the great survivors in the international game, is 33 and showing his age. Indeed, his contest with George Gregan, the Wallabies' captain, looked like a reunion of a couple of Galapagos tortoises. Dawson, of course, had by far the better service but he did not make the most of it.
Apart from his lack of pace and his double movement in delivering a pass, he spends most of the match stamping his feet or slapping his knees in mock exasperation. If that doesn't work then he harangues the referee in the manner of a fishwife. Sometimes it works, but it doesn't half slow up the stream of possession supplied by the pack.
It was Dawson's fumble that presented Mat Rogers with his first penalty and the Wallabies would have scored tries through the excellent Chris Latham and Drew Mitchell, both of whom made strong runs down the left touchline, but for Hodgson's last line of defence.
The match flowed and ebbed with a series of extraordinary flashpoints. After Hodgson had levelled with a penalty - Josh Lewsey ran straight into Gregan, who was called for obstruction - the Australian scrum-half was caught out by Dawson. Gregan - a world record 116 caps and still counting? - failed to retreat 10 yards after his opposite number took a tap penalty and got a yellow card for what the referee Joel Jutge described as a "cynical offence".
No sooner had Gregan trooped off than England, with Tindall acting as decoy and Lewsey entering the line, put Cohen over from close range. In front 10-6, England should have pushed on. They pushed all right and won a number of penalties, particularly at the scrum where the Wallaby props must have felt like kernels in a nutcracker suite. Just before half-time we knew we were heading for trouble when Alastair Baxter was penalised by Jutge, who was also jury and executioner, for not pushing straight.
Even after opening up a 16-9 lead England could not pull clear. Australia levelled with a well worked try by Mitchell and not even Hodgson could stop him. He got hurt in the process and Barkley proceeded to hammer over a penalty from a yard inside his own half to restore the lead.
Cue chaos, as every member of the Wallabies front row got themselves into trouble as England went for a pushover try. Cannon was warned, Baxter got a yellow card for collapsing and then Matt Dunning was taken off on a stretcher. Last night his neck was in a brace but his support staff did not think there was any serious damage.
The same cannot be said for the reputation of Australian front-row play as the game descended into uncontested scrums. They had been for most of the match.Reuse content