Stuart Lancaster has plenty to ponder before tougher Test for England

• Plenty of character but little coherency in defeat of Australia
• Coach looks to build 'momentum' for New Zealand match

Not since Stuart Lancaster's first two games in charge have England been quite so grateful for small mercies. Beforehand all the talk had been about a rousing performance, regardless of outcome. As so often in sport, the opposite came to pass: England will savour this psychologically crucial result despite, for 50 minutes, resembling a team who had barely met each other.

Little wonder Lancaster sounded mightily relieved as he looked ahead to England's remaining autumn internationals against Argentina and New Zealand. "I always feel the pressure of winning as England head coach but I felt it here because I knew it would build some momentum and allow the team some space to grow." That luxury felt painfully distant as England began the second half trailing 13-6, watched by a Mount Rushmore of frowning 2003 World Cup winners up in the stands.

In that respect England deserve credit for pulling through, albeit with a nudge or two of good fortune. It might have been a different game had the outstanding Mike Brown been pulled up for a foot in touch near his own line and England also escaped a possible forward pass in the build-up to a charge-down score for Chris Robshaw at the other end of the pitch.

Poor Scott Fardy was also being treated at the time for a possible spinal injury. While the concussed flanker ultimately escaped any serious damage, the game should probably have been halted as a precaution.

The steam certainly seemed to drain out of the Wallaby pack and the visitors' composure was still absent when Owen Farrell cut through a gap partially created by Dylan Hartley's considerable frame to score his first international try and give England a lead they never relinquished. While England's mental steel in the final half-hour will not have gone unnoticed by their 2003 predecessors, significant advances still clearly have to be made if they are to lift any trophies in 2015. Top of that list – as it has been for almost a decade – is England's midfield balance. Twickenham and Bermuda are not obviously twinned but, in both cases, there seem to be mysterious triangles into which it is possible to disappear without trace. In this case Billy Twelvetrees, a good player with an enviable range of skills, had one of those days, and his debutant centre partner Joel Tomkins was starkly introduced to the significant difference between club and international rugby union.

It was not entirely their fault. Expectations of big English forwards rampaging over the gain-line were seldom met, the promised upbeat first-half tempo was more of a funereal trudge and Farrell, at fly-half, is still acquiring the necessary spatial confidence to make centres salivate at the prospect of playing outside him.

There continue to be occasions when, for all his unshakable temperament, he looks like a centre playing at 10, an ongoing concern in terms of England's creative backline development.

Rivals such as Freddie Burns, though, do not kick or tackle to the same high standard and Farrell's ability to put mistakes behind him is second to none. Three missed first-half penalties might have destroyed weaker characters and Lancaster said he "always had confidence" the 22-year-old would bounce back. "Ian McGeechan talks about 'Test match animals' and the ability to absorb the pressure of playing under the spotlight. He seems to be able to do that."

Saturday was also another occasion which underlined how tough it is to be a baton-whirling fly-half in the claustrophobic modern game. Farrell's opposite number, Quade Cooper, produced the two best passes of the game, one a sumptuous back-door offload, but was also hampered by the contest's lack of momentum on a blustery afternoon.

Only when England's spluttering lineout allowed free ball did the Wallabies make much headway, Matt Toomua's crunching finish through Twelvetrees' attempted tackle causing the home crowd to fall quieter than ever. Lancaster, in terms of selection against the Pumas, has to decide whether continuity or further experimentation is the way ahead with the All Blacks looming on Saturday week.

On pure form there is a case for Luther Burrell's gainline power, with Bath's Kyle Eastmond also available. "Both Kyle and Luther are genuine options, Luther on form certainly,"said Lancaster who has added the 19-year-old Bath full-back Anthony Watson to his squad. The Northampton duo – Alex Corbisiero, if fit, and Hartley – must also be close to starting and the scrum-half role will attract further scrutiny.

Ben Youngs looked sharp when he came on but, having invited Lee Dickson to bring his organisational talents to bear, Lancaster needs to be wary of excessive tinkering. On the plus side England will get better and are starting to win games against southern hemisphere opposition without playing particularly well.

"We've won eight out of our last nine games now but it means nothing if we don't turn up, perform and win next weekend," cautioned the head coach. "It's a good start but we're not getting carried away."

A moderate Australian team, who sat out on the pitch at half-time on their tucker-boxes as the 2003 World Cup parade circled them, also have plenty to contemplate. Were this a three-Test series between the sides, the smart money would be on England's scrum securing them a 3-0 whitewash. Either way the Wallabies will now face Italy in Turin having lost eight of their 11 Tests this year. If the pitches stay soft, the next month will be hard work.

England: Brown (Harlequins); Ashton (Saracens), Tomkins (Saracens), Twelvetrees (Gloucester; Flood, Leicester, 67), Yarde (London Irish); Farrell (Saracens), Dickson (Northampton, B Youngs, Leicester, 55); M Vunipola (Saracens; Marler, Harlequins, 55), T Youngs (Leicester; Hartley, Northampton, 55), Cole (Leicester; Wilson, Bath, 67), Launchbury (London Wasps; Attwood, Bath, 76), Lawes (Northampton), Wood (Northampton), Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Vunipola (Saracens; Morgan, Gloucester, 67).

Tries Robshaw, Farrell Cons Farrell 2 Pens Farrell 2.

Australia: I Folau (Waratahs); Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs), Kuridrani (Brumbies), Toomua (Brumbies), Cummins (Western Force); Cooper (Reds), Genia (Reds; White, Brumbies, 67); Slipper (Reds; Robinson, Waratahs, 58), Moore (Brumbies; S Fainga'a, Reds, 69), Alexander (Brumbies; Kepu (Waratahs, 51), Timani (Waratahs; Douglas, Waratahs, 62), Horwill (Reds), Fardy (Brumbies; McCalman, Western Force, 50), Hooper (Waratahs), Mowen (Brumbies, capt).

Try Toomua Con Cooper Pens: Cooper 2.

Referee G Clancy (Ire). Attendance 80,691.


Robert Kitson at Twickenham

The GuardianTramp

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