Johnson's indomitables carve their name

Summer internationals: Heroics in defence when two men down stem relentless All Black tide and turn the game
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The Independent Online

The extraordinary thing - almost a frightening thing, given England's success-starved status on the global sporting stage - is that Clive Woodward's players can, and probably will come this autumn's World Cup, produce performances immeasurably better than the one they delivered in the heart of All Black country yesterday.

A first victory here for 30 years should have generated all manner of euphoric mayhem, yet the tourists were less than elated at being forced to "win ugly", rather than in the grand manner. They are that kind of team.

"Maybe I'll have a clearer picture of this achievement a few years down the line," said Richard Hill, the Saracens flanker, with a shrug of the shoulders. "If we can play that badly and still beat this lot in their own backyard... well, it's something, I suppose," said Josh Lewsey, nursing a messed-up face and a head full of stitches, wounds of honour inflicted by some typically ferocious New Zealand rucking in the closing minutes of a tight, tense Test played in a howling wind and a series of squalls. Clearly, this Red Rose vintage will not be satisfied until they lay hands on the Webb Ellis Trophy.

They should be satisfied right now, though. Massively satisfied. It may not have been pretty - there were scenes in Reservoir Dogs that looked prettier - but in resisting an extravagantly talented, if wayward, collection of All Blacks with a defensive performance as brave and honest as it was disciplined, they broke one half of an anti-podean stranglehold that has dominated rugby union for longer than any European would care to remember. They are now in a perfect position to complete the realignment of the world game by beating the Wallabies in Melbourne and claiming a first victory in Australia.

There were any number of remarkable aspects to this performance, not least Lawrence Dallaglio's pheno-menal effort at No 8 and Kyran Bracken's welcome return to Test form at scrum-half. (Bracken had looked a bag of nerves as he breakfasted at the team hotel, but he did not put so much as a toenail out of place during a raw and unforgiving contest.) There was also the question of the quarter of an hour's injury time at the end of the game. Was it any wonder that the tourists should have been on their knees with fatigue?

But the truly jaw-dropping facts are these: firstly, that England triumphed despite an unusually hesitant display from Jonny Wilkinson, whose general play was as flawed as his goal-kicking was exceptional; and secondly, that they absorbed everything the New Zealanders could throw at them with Neil Back and Dallaglio in the sin-bin.

With the game in the balance at 9-6 to the tourists after 50 minutes - three penalties from Wilkinson against two from the less accurate Carlos Spencer - their six remaining forwards found themselves scrummaging for their lives five metres from their line. They survived three shuddering set-pieces by fair means or foul - a wheel here, a front-row collapse there - before being penalised for a binding offence. When Rodney So'oialo, the striking new All Black No 8, gambled on a dart for the line, he was smothered by an entire laundryful of white shirts and was denied a try by the video official.

Having failed to register a single point during their period of numerical advantage, the New Zealanders now found themselves scrambling to resist opponents whose self-belief, never less than considerable, had been reinforced. Martin Johnson, Steve Thompson and Phil Vickery ploughed their way deep into All Black country with a series of surges unusually powerful even by the standards of this supremely physical game, and were rewarded for their efforts by a fourth Wilkinson penalty. When the left-footed outside-half then dropped a goal with his right following an elephantine rampage from Vickery, who made a significant difference after replacing a dazed Jason Leonard, England were nine points clear and almost home.

Not that they could afford to flatter themselves: the All Blacks are the most consistently successful team in world rugby precisely because they threaten until the final whistle. Within 90 seconds of Wilkinson's perfectly executed three-pointer, the New Zealanders claimed seven of their own with a try from nowhere.

With Lewsey caught in a ruck near the right touchline and Jason Robinson being held at close quarters, Spencer hoofed the ball into space deep in English territory. Doug Howlett and Caleb Ralph both hared downfield challenged only by Dallaglio, who might reasonably be described as "quick, but not that quick". Unsurprisingly, the electrifying Howlett won.

Warming to his task, Spencer immediately put another punishing kick behind the defence and forced Ben Cohen to cling on to the ball on the floor. The big wing from Northampton took a fearful pasting for his trouble - like Lewsey, he bore many and varied scars of battle at the end of the match - but fortunately for England, his tormentor fluffed the wide- angled penalty. Spencer's place-kicking had been scratchy from the start, and the 12 points he spurned were expensive in the extreme.

Still England had to defend, and they must have wondered if the second half would ever end, with Stuart Dickinson, one of the more whistle-happy referees on the circuit, stopping the game with pedantic relish.

Some 15 minutes were added to the 80, but England did not crack a second time. In match terms, they have not cracked since losing in Paris more than 15 months and 12 matches ago. It is some record - the record, dare it be said, of potential world champions.

New Zealand 13 England 15
Try: Howlett Pens: Wilkinson 4
Con: Spencer Drop: Wilkinson
Pens: Spencer 2

Half-time: 6-6 Attendance: 43,000

England in NZ

New Zealand 21 England 11
Auckland, 25 May 1963
England scorers: try: Ranson; conversion: Hosen; penalties: Hosen 2.

New Zealand 9 England 6
Christchurch, 1 June 1963
Scorers: try: Phillips; penalty: Hosen.

New Zealand 10 England 16
Auckland, 15 September 1973
Scorers: tries: Squires, Stevens, Neary;conversions: Rossborough 2.

New Zealand 18 England 13
Christchurch, 1 June 1985
Scorers: tries: Harrison, Teague; conversion: Barnes; penalty: Barnes.

New Zealand 42 England 15
Wellington, 8 June 1985
Scorers: tries: Hall, Harrison; conversions: Barnes 2; drop goal: Barnes.

New Zealand 64 England 22
Dunedin, 20 June 1998
Scorers: tries: Cockerill, Dawson, Beim; conversions: Stimpson 2; penalty: Stimpson.

New Zealand 40 England 10
Auckland, 27 June 1998
Scorers: try: Dawson; conversion: Dawson; penalty: Dawson.

The long run into the record books

England 50 Wales 10
Twickenham, 23 March 2002
England scorers: tries: Luger 2, Greenwood, Wilkinson, Stimpson; conversions: Wilkinson 5; penalties: Wilkinson 4; drop goal: Wilkinson.

Italy 9 England 45
Rome, 7 April 2002
Scorers: tries: Greenwood 2, Cohen, Robinson, Dallaglio, Healey; conversions : Wilkinson 5, Dawson; penalty: Wilkinson.

Argentina 18 England 26
Buenos Aires, 22 June 2002
Scorers: tries: Kay, Christophers; conversions: Hodgson 2; penalties: Hodgson 3, Stimpson.

England 31 New Zealand 28
Twickenham, 9 November 2002
Scorers: tries: Moody, Wilkinson, Cohen; conversions: Wilkinson 2; drop goal: Wilkinson; penalties: Wilkinson 3.

England 32 Australia 31
Twickenham, 16 November 2002
Scorers: tries: Cohen 2; conversions: Wilkinson 2; penalties: Wilkinson 6.

England 53 South Africa 3
Twickenham, 23 November 2002
Scorers: tries: Greenwood 2, Cohen, Back, Hill, Dallaglio, penalty try; conversions: Stimpson 2, Gomarsall 2, Wilkinson, Dawson; penalties: Wilkinson 2.

England 25 France 17
Twickenham, 15 February 2003
Scorers: try: Robinson; conversion: Wilkinson; penalties: Wilkinson 5; drop goal: Wilkinson.

Wales 9 England 26
Cardiff, 22 February 2003
Scorers: tries: Greenwood, Worsley; conversions: Wilkinson 2; penalties: Wilkinson 2; drop goals: Wilkinson 2.

England 40 Italy 5
Twickenham, 9 March 2003
Scorers: tries: Lewsey 2, Thompson, Simpson-Daniel, Tindall, Luger; conversions: Wilkinson 4, Dawson.

England 40 Scotland 9
Twickenham, 22 March 2003
Scorers: tries: Robinson 2, Lewsey, Cohen; conversions: Wilkinson 3, Grayson; penalties: Wilkinson 4.

Ireland 6 England 42
Dublin, 30 March, 2003
Scorers: tries: Greenwood 2, Dallaglio, Tindall, Luger; conversions: Wilkinson 3, Grayson; penalty: Wilkinson; drop goals: Wilkinson 2.

New Zealand 13 England 15
Wellington, 14 June 2003

Points scored: 425 (ave 35.4)
Points conceded: 158 (ave 13.2)
Tries scored: 43
Tries conceded: 13

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