England ultimately fell to an eighth straight defeat to New Zealand, 6-19, but Martin Johnson's embattled team succeeded in restoring some red rose pride at the end of an otherwise miserable autumn.
For the best part of an hour, England stood toe to toe with the All Blacks, almost unrecognisable from the cowering, anxious team that scraped to victory over Argentina seven days ago.
Two penalties from Jonny Wilkinson had carried England into the break level at 6-6, thanks partly to two simple misses from All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter.
In the final analysis, England did not have the attacking composure to push New Zealand right to the limit and the All Blacks sealed victory in the second half, with Jimmy Cowan's try proving the difference.
England's attacking failings remain a concern, with only one try in three Tests and no points again after the interval - but this was the performance Johnson had demanded, packed with fight, industry and endeavour.
England's best-laid plans had to be redrawn after barely two minutes when Joe Worsley, recalled for his tenacious defensive work, limped out of the action.
But it did nothing to dilute England's physical approach as Johnson's men started with an edge and a dynamism that was so woefully lacking against Argentina.
Past experiences have proven the only way to beat New Zealand is to match them for muscle and right from the kick-off England were in the face of the All Blacks.
Lewis Moody chased tirelessly to put Carter under pressure and this week he was not a lone operator, with James Haskell, Matt Banahan and Simon Shaw a willing supporting cast.
Carter was under constant pressure from Moody and even when he tested Mark Cueto, the new England full-back responded in confident fashion under the high ball.
Seven days ago England played as if scared of their own shadows. Today, Paul Hodgson's darting run through the lineout caught the All Blacks briefly unawares and brought tempo to the game.
England received an early let-off when Carter missed a straightforward penalty but when the All Blacks spread play wide, Steve Borthwick was on hand to scrag Cowan at the back of a ruck.
This was the kind of on-field leadership England had been crying out for. Borthwick, perhaps emboldened by the return of Shaw alongside him, was enjoying one of his best games in recent memory.
England's high-pressure defence was unsettling the All Blacks and Ugo Monye was unfortunate not to score the opening try.
Monye scooped up the loose ball and stretched to touch down next to the posts but referee Jonathan Kaplan ruled Monye had knocked the ball forward in the tackle.
England did take the lead soon after with a penalty from Wilkinson before New Zealand provided a glimpse of their quality as Carter slipped a pass to Mils Muliaina out the back of his hand.
Muliaina arrowed for the corner but Monye covered brilliantly and, with Croft's assistance, forced the All Blacks full-back into touch just before he grounded the ball.
Carter and Wilkinson exchanged penalties to make it 6-6. England were determined to play with their heads up and Cueto tried to run from his own 22 but was caught.
New Zealand began to up the pressure and Payne was penalised again at the scrum but Carter, inexplicably, missed once again.
England had to take advantage. Immediately after the restart, Borthwick, Shaw and Moody combined to win a vital turnover inside the England 22.
Carter edged New Zealand ahead after recovering the All Blacks' platform with a brilliant touch-finder and New Zealand almost broke England's line with a scything run from Muliaina.
England responded defiantly. Steve Thompson replaced Hartley, whose lineout accuracy had deserted him, David Wilson came on for Duncan Bell and at the very next scrum England won possession against the head.
But after threatening a breakthrough for so long, New Zealand found it just before the hour mark when Cowan launched a blindside raid from the back of a ruck.
Slick off-loads from Sitiveni Sivivatu and Richie McCaw opened the space for Cowan to score in the corner, although the final pass appeared to be forward.
Carter opened a 10-point gap with the touchline conversion but Johnson's message all week had been not to get anxious if the All Blacks score.
Immediately from the restart, Shaw charged down a Carter clearance, Thompson bulldozed downfield, England won a penalty and went for touch.
New Zealand repelled England's first attack and then Wilkinson missed with a golden drop-goal attempt from right underneath the posts.
Shane Geraghty came on for Ayoola Erinle but England's composure began to crack, forcing passes that were not on and three All Blacks defenders were able to march isolated Monye 20 yards back in the tackle.
Muliaina sliced past Geraghty and Wilkinson with another elusive break and although he was bundled into touch, England were soon penalised and Carter slotted the points.