New Zealand 20 England 15 match report: England so close to sacking Kiwi stronghold

Under-strength tourists give the All Blacks a massive fright before falling to last-gasp try

It depends how you look at it: England have either blown their best chance of beating the All Blacks on New Zealand soil, or they will have the opportunity of a lifetime – maybe several lifetimes – when they field a far stronger combination in Dunedin next weekend.

A Red Rose side boasting only five first-choice players gave the reigning world champions a rare old hurry-up here yesterday, and for long periods it seemed that the greatest of all rugby strongholds would finally be sacked after 20 years of impregnability. Then, less than three minutes from time, the drawbridge was slammed shut in the tourists’ faces.

Conrad Smith, that most cunning of outside-centres, was the man who slammed it, diving over in the right corner after a clever pass under pressure from his namesake Ben off a five-metre scrum. Yet if the All Black celebrations were wildly joyous, their overwhelming emotion was one of relief. It had taken them 70 minutes to hit the front and, having been reeled back in by Danny Cipriani, who nailed a tough penalty to square it at 15 apiece within a minute or so of replacing the excellent Freddie Burns, they needed all their wit and a splash of good fortune to close the deal at the death.

If England fail to take something from this series they will forever rue two major mess-ups deep in the last quarter, when the contest was as tight as a tourniquet. In the 70th minute, with the scores locked at 12-12, the scrum-half, Ben Youngs, allowed the ball to slip away at the base of a ruck, an error that freed the rangy All Black lock Brodie Retallick on a 40-metre gallop into the danger zone.

 

Marland Yarde hunted him down, but the wing’s attempt to smuggle possession on the floor put him on the wrong side of the referee, Nigel Owens, who promptly flourished a yellow card. By the time Yarde reached the sin-bin, Aaron Cruden had kicked the easy penalty.

Then, after the substitute New Zealand hooker Keven Mealamu had dived headlong into a ruck and handed Cipriani a high-pressure shot at the sticks – the poor devil had barely had a chance to get used to the light, let alone find his range – there was a second, infinitely more expensive, faux pas. Henry Thomas, on at tighthead prop for David Wilson, threw an ill-judged pass to his front-row colleague Joe Marler in open field, leaving the Harlequin hopelessly isolated. Predictably enough, Marler was penalised for not releasing on the floor.

At which point there was unpredictability of the most exciting kind. Cruden, such an inventive soul, rejected the straightforward three-pointer in favour of a quick tap – a decision that seemed profoundly flawed until Victor Vito, the powerful back-rower from Wellington, tore through the English barricades at express pace. Thomas paid his debt to Red Rose society by bringing him to earth with a fingertip tackle, but the All Blacks were in prime position now and they duly made it count by manufacturing the winning try for Smith.

It was savagely hard on the tourists, who had risen miles above the selectorial morass caused by the absence of 14 players from Northampton and Saracens, the two strongest clubs in England, and delivered a performance most rugby folk thought was beyond a side so weakened by injury and unavailability. They made much of the early running, partly through the intelligent support play of the captain, Chris Robshaw, and the rumbustious No 8, Ben Morgan, and partly through the control exerted by the recalled Burns, and had they been more disciplined at the restarts they might easily have led at the interval.

Instead, they turned around at 9-9 – an unnerving position, given the All Blacks’ penchant for tearing up opponents in the 20 minutes after the break. Yet with the tight forwards scrummaging heavily and maximising their line-out expertise with some dynamic driving mauls, the tourists were strong enough to cope with the increased tempo the New Zealanders brought to their work on the resumption.

Brodie Rettallick attempts to break the tackle of Marland Yarde Brodie Rettallick attempts to break the tackle of Marland Yarde In fact, they matched them blow for blow: the brilliant blind-side snipe from the home scrum-half Aaron Smith that should have resulted in a try for Jerome Kaino was balanced by a lovely broken-field run from Kyle Eastmond, the out-of-favour Bath centre who more than justified his place in the England midfield, and a dangerous chip-and-chase effort from the lively Gloucester wing Jonny May.

There was always a serious chance of the All Blacks hurting their opponents off the bench, and the introduction of Vito at the last knockings certainly impacted on the outcome. Yet England made light of the fact that so many senior players, from the outside-half Owen Farrell to the back-five forwards Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood, were manacled to their seats in the stand. All things considered, it was a remarkable effort for so depleted a side to stay in the game for so long.

But heartbreakingly close is never close enough. As the indefatigable Robshaw said afterwards, the sides were equally matched everywhere except in the final numbers. And those are the only things that really matter.

New Zealand: I Dagg (Hawke’s Bay;); B Smith (Otago), C Smith, M Nono, C Jane (all Wellington); A Cruden (Manawatu), A Smith (Manawatu); A Woodcock (N Harbour), D Coles (Wellington), O Franks (Canterbury), B Retallick (Bay of Plenty), S Whitelock (Canterbury), L Messam (Waikato), R McCaw (Canterbury, capt), J Kaino (Auckland).

Replacements: B Barrett (Taranaki) for Dagg, 54; C Faumuina (Auckland) for Franks, 54; K Mealamu (Auckland) for Coles, 60; W Crockett (Canterbury) for Woodcock, 60; M Fekitoa (Auckland) for Nonu, 60; T J Perenara (Wellington) for A Smith, 70; V Vito (Wellington) for Messam, 71

England: M Brown (Harlequins); M Yarde (Harlequins), M Tuilagi (Leicester), K Eastmond (Bath), J May (Gloucester); F Burns (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins), R Webber (Bath), D Wilson (Bath), J Launchbury (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Morgan (Gloucester).

Replacements: J Gray (Harlequins) for Webber, 70; H Thomas (Bath) for Wilson, 70; D Attwood (Bath) for Launchbury, 70; T Johnson (Exeter) for Haskell, 70; D Cipriani (Sale) for Burns, 71; C Pennell (Worcester) for May, 79; L Dickson (Northampton) for Youngs, 79.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
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

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick