England’s return to the scene of their 2003 World Cup final triumph ended in a painful defeat as Australia sunk them following an error-strewn Telstra Stadium showdown.
The game rarely moved out of first gear, with England suffering a 12th loss from 14 starts against the Wallabies Down Under.
The world champions battled gamely, but with so many key players – the likes of Martin Corry, Andrew Sheridan, Steve Thompson, Danny Grewcock, Josh Lewsey, Charlie Hodgson and Mark Cueto – resting at home, it proved to be mission impossible.
Full-back Chris Latham’s sparkling solo try provided the highlight of the encounter, while wing Mark Gerrard and prop Rodney Blake emulated Latham in the second period, with centre Stirling Mortlock booting 19 points from five penalties and two conversions to leave England reeling.
England managed an Olly Barkley penalty in response but, despite some occasional glimpses of attacking adventure from Tom Varndell, Iain Balshaw and Mathew Tait, there was precious little for a 62,000-crowd to enthuse about.
Australia missed a golden chance to go ahead on four minutes from 35 metres, but Mortlock sent his penalty chance sailing wide.
However, the centre edged Australia ahead soon after when England prop Graham Rowntree was penalised for pulling down a maul, finding his range from 35 metres.
Australia then broke clear from the restart after England wing Tom Voyce missed a tackle on Wallabies flanker George Smith, and England’s frustration was underlined when Varndell attempted an ambitious pass out of defence and possession drifted into touch.
Mortlock doubled Australia’s lead through a second successful penalty and, with Australia increasingly probing for gaps, England found themseleves stretched.
Barkley though, briefly lifted spirits before the break when his well-placed kick almost sent centre Mike Catt scurrying clear; then he created a great chance for Balshaw.
The full-back was agonisingly close to a touchdown, but George Gregan managed to get underneath him and prevent the score.
England were denied the try, but Australia infringed less than a minute later, only for Barkley to miss a 20-metre sitter.
Australia ended the half deep inside English territory, still striving for a try-scoring breakthrough as Mortlock completed his penalty hat-trick.
England struck the first scoring blow after half-time when Barkley slotted a 20-metre penalty, but Mortlock cancelled that strike out just five minutes later, lifting Australia 12-3 ahead.
The home side looked to exert pressure by sacrificing a kickable penalty attempt for territory after England prop Julian White infringed, and such opportunism gained its reward.
Larkham rifled the ball into touch and, when Australia quickly worked possession to their backs, England were cut open.
Latham easily evaded centre Catt’s attempted tackle, and then cut inside scrum-half Peter Richards for a superb solo score that Mortlock converted for a 19-3 lead.
England had to strike back immediately, and Robinson made a triple substitution, sending on Wasps flanker Joe Worsley for his 50th cap, debut-making hooker George Chuter and lock Chris Jones, with Magnus Lund, Lee Mears and Alex Brown respectively making way.
Like most things England tried, though, it was to no avail.