England launched a year described by head coach Stuart Lancaster as "defining" with a spirited 20-13 victory over Australia in their opening QBE International at Twickenham.
Tries from Chris Robshaw - his first in 18 Test appearances - and Owen Farrell overcame a 13-6 interval deficit to dominate the second half of an ugly match.
Farrell endured a mixed afternoon from the kicking tee, missing three of his seven shots at goal, but he recovered well, using his wits to produce the match-winning touch down in the 58th minute.
England were poor in the first half as they failed to capitalise on a dominant scrum and lost their way alarmingly in the third quarter.
While they were one dimensional, Australia were far sharper in attack and infinitely more comfortable on the ball, possessing the two best players on the pitch in Quade Cooper and Israel Folau.
Centre Matt Toomua scored the simplest of tries for the Wallabies - Billy Twelvetrees was at fault because of a feeble tackle - while Cooper expertly directed play.
But once an error-ridden 10-minute spell that opened the second half had been negotiated, England finally began playing with conviction against their 2015 World Cup group rivals.
Australia still remained dangerous but with Robshaw and Farrell crossing and Cooper missing two penalties, the Cook Cup slipped from their grasp.
England's 2003 World Cup-winning squad performed a lap of honour at half-time and while the current squad lack the class of a decade a ago, Lancaster will have been impressed that his team found a way to win.
He had stressed all week the need to hit the ground running after being ambushed 20-14 by the Wallabies last autumn and they appeared to have made the start he demanded when some muscular defending forced a penalty that Farrell nudged over.
A loose chip from Joel Tomkins wasted a promising spell and although Farrell levelled the score after Billy Vunipola has strayed offside, England were in control.
The scrum was proving a happy hunting ground, winning a free kick and penalty, but their ascendancy was not mirrored on the scoreboard as Farrell missed two successive penalties.
Ben Alexander was Australia's weak link in July's decisive final Test against the British and Irish Lions and the tighthead prop was enduring another reputation-damaging afternoon in the set piece.
He popped up twice and then it was loosehead James Slipper's turn to be penalised after dropping his knee to the floor.
Farrell missed a third shot at goal from long range, but in the 28th minute England finally made some headway.
For the first time they ran with intent, Billy Vunipola piercing the first line of defence and Mike Brown taking the ball to the line.
Australia were struggling and amid a warning from referee George Clancy that a yellow card would soon be produced, they infringed again and this time Farrell was on target.
The Wallabies' response was brilliant, however, as Folau eased past a missed tackle by Chris Ashton and glided into space with reinforcements arriving quickly at the ensuing breakdown.
Will Genia tried to dummy his way over twice but kept the ball alive and then fed Toomua who, from a standing start five yards out, flattened Billy Twelvetrees and rode a tackle from Chris Robshaw to crash over.
The lead was extended to seven points when Cooper landed the conversion and a penalty and Australia spent half-time grouped together on the pitch.
England began the third quarter with a succession of errors - a simple backs move breaking down, Tomkins feebly slipping off a tackle on Tevita Kuridrani and Marland Yarde penalised for a late block on Adam Ashley-Cooper.
The last offence gave Cooper a chance but he missed the kick, and this time it was England who responded with intent as Yarde was prevented from crossing by a double try-saving tackle from Ashley-Cooper and Kuridrani.
Play stopped as Scott Fardy was carried off on a stretcher with a neck brace fitted following a heavy collision and when it restarted England crossed.
Genia's clearance was charged down by Mako Vunipola into the path of Robshaw who picked up the ball and fell over the line with Farrell converting.
The Saracens fly-half then converted his own try after he had slipped between two Wallabies forwards, although there was a hint of obstruction from Dylan Hartley on Stephen Moore.
The arrival of scrum-half Ben Youngs from the bench had provided an injection of pace and with Cooper missing two penalties, the momentum was with England once again.
Showing character and nous, England closed out the match to retain third place in the world rankings.