England 18 New Zealand 20 match report: England’s final chance sunk by last kick of game

Shaun Johnson converts his own last-minute try to deny hosts a World Cup semi-final win

There have been some cruel late defeats at the hands of Antipodeans over the last three decades, but nothing quite like this.

England played magnificently in this World Cup semi-final, only to be beaten by a last-minute Shaun Johnson try and an injury-time conversion from the same player.

The Kiwis hung onto their trophy, at least for another week, but this was not a game England deserved to lose.

They did so through a series of events, one flowing into the other. First, George Burgess conceded a penalty with a high tackle on Sonny Bill Williams. Then, with the Kiwis camped on their try-line, the England captain, Kevin Sinfield, came charging out of the defensive line on a mission to stop Johnson.

He went low, missed his tackle and the New Zealand scrum-half was away for the equaliser, with the  winning kick a formality. England could play those final two minutes a hundred times and hang on to win 99 times.

The England coach, Steve McNamara, was quick to absolve his skipper, who otherwise had a mighty game, of any culpability. “I don’t think Kevin has anything to blame himself for,” he said.

It is no consolation that it was a magnificent game of rugby league, played out with never a dull moment in front of a crowd of over 65,000 at a sun lit Wembley Stadium.

Although he admitted that he and his players were “distraught,” McNamara made manful efforts to see the bigger picture. “Sport at the highest level can be cruel,” he said. “They’ve used up every ounce of energy. But this World Cup has done tremendous things for our game.”

The truth is that, apart from a few unnecessary penalties, England could not have played much better yesterday than they did.

Inevitably, much of the early attention was on Gareth Widdop, promoted to the key pivotal role in place of the discarded, and no doubt disillusioned, Rangi Chase.

Widdop ultimately had a good game, but he and his team-mates had little to do in the first few minutes but defend. When they did commandeer a share of possession, however, England looked dangerous, especially when probing the right wing through the Wigan pair Sam Tomkins and Josh Charnley.

It was by taking play the other way, via their blue-chip NRL props, though, that they made their breakthrough. James Graham got his pass away to Sam Burgess, recently tested by a cynical third-man high tackle by Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. His one-handed off-load was perfectly measured for releasing Sean O’Loughlin to score.

Sinfield added the conversion, plus a penalty when another Burgess break saw O’Loughlin pulled back before the pass could be delivered.

Eight points up and it should have been more, but England saw their lead dismantled in the 10 minutes before half-time.

Most of the damage was done by a quite extraordinary Kiwi try as they kept the ball alive desperately on the last tackle of a set. The danger seemed to have passed when the ball went over Dean Whare’s head, but he somehow kept it in play for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to touch down. A conversion and a penalty from Shaun Johnson and a fascinating match was all-square at the break.

That situation did not last long. Three minutes into the second half, Kevin Locke chimed into the attacking line, England found themselves a man short, Ryan Hall left his wing and Tuivasa-Sheck claimed his second try. Johnson missed the conversion, but landed one of a string of penalties awarded in the Kiwis’ favour by the Australian referee, Ben Cummins.

When England finally got a call in their direction, for a high shot from Williams, they exerted the pressure that should have brought them level. Graham was again involved, with Sinfield providing the final pass to bring Kallum Watkins running unstoppably on an angle. Sinfield missed a kick he would have expected to put over, but his influential game continued when he was there to provide the ball that sent Sam Burgess crashing over.

As time drained away, it looked as though the World Cup holders were on their way out, but with Williams growing in influence as the game went on, they found the big play when they needed it.

“I don’t think we played real well, but we hung in there and gave ourselves a chance,” said an honest Stephen Kearney, the Kiwi coach.

Their sheer grit and the near-miraculous way they kept the ball alive at times kept them in contention. Whether that will be enough at Old Trafford against Australia, who trounced Fiji 64-0 in the other semi-final, is a question that England fans who thought their own team was going there will want answered.

England: Tomkins; Charnley, Watkins, Cudjoe, Hall; Widdop, Sinfield; Graham, Roby, S Burgess, Ferres, Westwood, O’Loughlin. Substitutes used: Burrow, G Burgess, Hill, Ablett.

New Zealand: Locke; Tuivasa-Sheck, Whare, Goodwin, Nightingale; Foran, Johnson; Waerea-Hargreaves, Luke, Bromwich, Mannering, Williams, Taylor. Substitutes used: Nuuausala, Kasiano, Matulino, Glenn.

Referee: B Cummins (Aus).

Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits