OITA • Not for the first time in their Rugby World Cup history, England gave their fans some palpitations, but Eddie Jones and his players lived to fight another day following a hard-earned 40-16 win over Australia in Oita yesterday.
The semi-finals now await after a seesawing contest against a battling Wallabies side who, for 65 minutes, made their opponents work extremely hard for their place in the tournament's last four.
Jones was thrilled, but admitted that it was a tough game and vowed that his men would come back stronger in their next match.
"We are happy to play anyone but I have a soft spot for New Zealand," said the Australian, before the All Blacks defeated Ireland 46-14 in the other quarter-final yesterday.
"I would love to play New Zealand in the semi-finals. It would be a great challenge. We are so excited.
"We haven't been at our best yet and that is the challenge to see how we can get to our best. There is always a better samurai around the corner."
The final margin did not entirely reflect an eventful game in which the Wallabies' counter-attacking excellence made life distinctly uncomfortable for England at times.
Only in the final quarter did Jones' men finally establish a measure of forward control, built on the foundations of a rampaging 46th-minute score by their tighthead prop Kyle Sinckler which put crucial daylight between the teams.
Two first-half tries from Jonny May gave England an early cushion, with a late intercept score from Anthony Watson and Owen Farrell's 100 per cent contribution from the kicking tee also helping to keep the score out of the Wallabies' clutches.
It earned England a measure of consolation for their 33-13 defeat by their old rivals at the 2015 World Cup. It was also the seventh win in a row for Jones over Australia coach Michael Cheika, his former team-mate at Sydney's Randwick club.
A one-sided outcome, however, did not always look on the cards.
Australia had looked the brighter side initially, probing for gaps in England's defensive spacing and taking an early lead via Christian Lealiifano's first successful penalty.
Their opponents took a while to make any kind of consistent front-foot impression, before May's tries banished their jangling nerves.
As well as enjoying 60 per cent of first-half possession, the Wallabies were doing a good job of not allowing England to settle and the first score after the break felt important from both sides' perspective.
Australia's second-half record against their opponents has not been great of late but, within two minutes of the restart, they had reduced the margin to a single point, at 17-16.
Elliot Daly, under a bit of pressure, knocked on 40 metres from his own line and slick use of the resulting turnover ball gave Marika Koroibete the space to burn off Daly and register only the third try against England in this Cup.
Would it prove a decisive moment? The answer was soon delivered by a beaming Sinckler as he stormed untouched through the unguarded heart of the Wallaby defence to touch down by the posts.
He was also responsible for a crucial defensive rip, as Australia pressed for another score before Watson's final intervention and Farrell's fourth conversion took England into 40-point territory.
"I was pleased that the players stuck at the game in the first 20 minutes where I think Australia had 75 per cent possession," said Jones.
"We had to defend really well and we hung in and got the momentum back. They obviously came back in the second half, and then we had to find ourselves. And we took our opportunities well."
A dejected Cheika, meanwhile, urged the media to show "compassion" when asked about his future.
His contract expires at the end of the year and he has indicated he would not be reapplying for his job if they failed to win the World Cup.
"It's a cruel world when you are being asked those questions two minutes after being knocked out of a World Cup," he said.
"If you could find some compassion... just think about people's feelings, just chill. The better team won, that's the way it is. You've got to suck that up sometimes.
"But the lads put everything into it today. I want all the Aussies at home and here to know that."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS