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Sunday November 3, 2013 MYT 2:32:16 AM
Sunday November 3, 2013 MYT 2:32:23 AM
by mitch phillips
England's Chris Robshaw (2nd R) celebrates his try with team-mate Mike Brown (2nd L) against Australia during their international rugby union test match at Twickenham in London, November 2, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville
LONDON (Reuters) - A year ago England were full of confidence as they took on an Australian team fresh from a thrashing by France only for the Wallabies to triumph and remind coach Stuart Lancaster how much work he had to do.
On Saturday, with the same visitors reeling from seven defeats in 10 games this year it looked like déjà vu as they led 13-6 at halftime with England struggling to find any cohesion.
However, Lancaster's rebuilding project has had 12 more months in the works and this time England found a way to get a foothold in the game then force a 20-13 victory with second-half tries by captain Chris Robshaw and flyhalf Owen Farrell, who converted both to add to his first half penalties.
It was not a vintage performance but, as Lancaster is well aware two years away from facing Australia again on the same Twickenham ground in the pool stage of the World Cup, the win was everything.
The victorious 2003 World Cup squad paraded round the ground at halftime, Webb Ellis Cup in hand, as a timely reminder that, to win the biggest trophy in the sport you just have to find a way to get over the line.
"Everything didn't go smoothly in 2003, we had some difficult moments and had to really fight for it," Jonny Wilkinson said to former team mate Will Greenwood as they circuited the 82,000-capacity stadium.
Everyone remembers the victory in the Sydney final was England's 12th in a row against southern hemisphere opposition and how their confidence was given such an enormous lift by their away wins over New Zealand and Australia five months before the tournament.
Yet, as Wilkinson pointed out, there were hairy moments a plenty in the World Cup, particularly in the quarter- and semi-finals when they trailed to Wales and France respectively.
That sort of obduracy is what Lancaster wants and while no doubt concerned that his new-look side took so long to get up to speed, he was delighted with the way they found a way back into the game.
"I was pleased with the composure we showed in the second half," he told reporters.
"There were a lot of young lads out there, three making their Twickenham debuts. The subs then came on and made a difference and I think we deserved it in the end.
"In the second half it was about keeping patient and we have to learn not to chase the scoreboard. We've made errors doing that in the past and I thought we did that well."
Although England won a two-test series in Argentina in June it was with a squad shorn of its British and Irish Lions, plus a few senior names ordered to go away and rest.
Consequently the squad had had only nine days together since their chastening 30-3 defeat by Wales in the Six Nations in March.
England accepted that they had failed to deal with the emotion of the occasion on that memorable grand slam-winning day for the Welsh but, like the class of '03 whose desire was hardened by grand slam setbacks in the preceding years, they will have emerged the better for it.
Robshaw, one of those who spent the summer with his feet up, certainly enjoyed his return to action, and not just because he scored his first international try with a smart reaction after a Will Genia clearance was charged down.
"We addressed our intensity and physicality and we came out all guns blazing after halftime," he said.
The victory made it eight wins from nine games for England - Cardiff being the only blip - and they will expect to make it nine against Argentina next weekend.
They then face New Zealand, who they stunned 38-21 a year ago, in the first of five matches against the All Blacks over the next 13 months and Lancaster, like Clive Woodward 10 years ago, knows his team need to beat them again to really believe in themselves going into their own World Cup in 2015.
For Australia it was hardly the start they wanted for what could be a tough tour with games to come against Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Captain Ben Mowen accepted that England deserved the victory and brushed off suggestions that they had been lucky with refereeing decisions that missed Mike Brown stepping into touch at the start of the move that led to their first try and dismissed claims of obstruction en route to the second.
"You've got to give it to the English. They scrambled really well and had more urgency," said the number eight.
"But it's another learning process for us".
(Editing by Rex Gowar)
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