ORDINARILY, it is in the World Cup games where they say performance does not matter and only the result counts.
Yet, in many ways, the adage was just the same on Saturday as England, fully 10 months before they face Australia in the global behemoth that arrives in the UK next year, simply had to defeat the Wallabies in their final autumn international.
That they did was in large part to the continued but unlikely try-scoring exploits of No 8 Ben Morgan, an utterly dominant scrum, some super tactical kicking and a captain’s lead from Chris Robshaw who, once more, silenced many, it not all, of his critics.
The naivety shown when losing potentially winning positions against both New Zealand and South Africa was replaced with a greater understanding of the game as England played to their strengths and forced a third successive defeat on their struggling opponents.
Though the tight-five were supreme, it was far from vintage stuff elsewhere on occasions and there were still times when Stuart Lancaster’s side had to scramble for dear life after being broken out wide too often.
Some of their execution was again off with wingers Anthony Watson and Jonny May both spilling the sort of passes that need to be finished if they are to have a chance of winning a World Cup.
Robshaw, whose crucial turnover was a catalyst for Morgan’s opening try in the first half, acknowledges all of that.
“For us, it was very much about winning today,” said the Harlequins openside, who comfortably outplayed Australia captain Michael Hooper.
“If we had lost and looked back over this series having lost three of four it would have been tough to take, especially being here at Twickenham, and especially with what’s happening next year.
“So to get the win was extremely pleasing. We know it’s not all smelling of roses and there’s things to work on, improvements to make, but we’re still extremely pleased – and have a huge amount of relief to finish like that.”
At fly-half, George Ford looked like he had played a century of Tests rather than was making only his second start here, his kicking and that of Ben Youngs, too, proving crucial in keeping Australia at arm’s length.
Ford’s conversion of Morgan’s first try and two penalties gave England a 13-3 interval lead although, having missed penalties either side of the break, it meant the Wallabies were in touch when opposite fly-half Bernard Foley conjured up a converted try all too easily in the 45th minute.
Morgan’s second came after a pushover from a five-metre scrum, Ford improving, only for Lancaster’s side to immediately concede again as Will Skelton bundled over for Quade Cooper to convert.
Ahead just 20-17 with 20 minutes to go, it was the sort of position they could easily have relinquished after what had happened against the All Blacks and Springboks.
But there was no implosions, rather a simple desire and belief that they would see this one out.
Ford slotted two penalties as Australia, with Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau constantly probing, looked for answers and the relief at the end was palpable.
“There were outstanding performances from the guys,” added Robshaw, who insisted the result will have no bearing on the World Cup meeting next October.
“I thought they all put their hands up and it needed to be done for the goodness of the side. Playing in the right areas, delivering quick ball, defending.
“You know you are in a pressure situation and if we’d have lost things would have spun pretty quickly. But that’s not something we have to think about now. We’re on the back of a win and we’ll take it into Wales. We get to kick off the Six Nations in Cardiff – it was a challenge for us last time. I’m sure they will welcome us with open arms!”
England, of course, endured their biggest defeat against the Welsh on their last visit there, 30-3 in the 2013 grand slam decider.
They return on February 6 with Lancaster reminding everyone that England still have seven British Lions to return to their squad including Tom Croft, Alex Corbisiero, Geoff Parling and Dan Cole in the forwards alone, a reminder of just how much strength in depth they have up front.
He suggested the players who finished this campaign will get first shot at the Six Nations, though it is hard to believe that will be true for Billy Twelvetrees, who did little to make the No 12 shirt his own as he became the third different inside centre in as many weeks.
Manu Tuilagi’s expected return should sort out one of the centre roles but who will take the other slot remains inconclusive.
England: Brown; Watson, Barritt (Farrell 62 BB), Twelvetrees (Barritt 67, Yarde 78), May; Ford, Youngs (Wigglesworth 70); Marler (Mullen 54), Hartley (Webber 71), Wilson (Brookes 60), Attwood, Lawes (Kruis 54), Wood (Haskell 76), Robshaw, Morgan.
Australia: Folau; Speight (Beale 65), Ashley-Cooper, Toomua, Horne; Foley (Cooper 45), Phipps (White 50); Slipper (Robinson 67), Fainga’a (Hanson 73), Kepu (Alexander 52), Carter, Simmons (Jones 40), McMahon (Skelton 58), Hooper, McCalman.
Referee: J Garces (France).