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).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
Sport
Jonny Evans and Papiss Cisse come together
football
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The beat is on: Alfred Doda, Gjevat Kelmendi and Orli Shuka in ‘Hyena’
filmReview: Hyena takes corruption and sleaziness to a truly epic level
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis