Sinning England hang on for stunning victory over All Blacks

New Zealand 13 England 15
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The Independent Online

England confirmed their status as the world's top team by recording a stunning victory over New Zealand in Wellington today.

It was England's first success against the All Blacks on New Zealand soil for 30 years, and set a new red rose record of 12 successive Test match wins.

But perhaps most significantly of all, Martin Johnson's men struck a huge psychological blow against their major World Cup rivals just four months before rugby's global extravaganza kicks off in Australia.

Fly-half master Jonny Wilkinson kicked four penalties and a drop-goal, defying horribly blustery conditions, while New Zealand scored the solitary try through full-back Doug Howlett's breakaway second-half effort.

But Carlos Spencer, Wilkinson's opposite number, endured a nightmare time with the boot, missing four kicks at goal. His failures proved critical.

England even survived a fraught second-half spell when they were temporarily reduced to 13 men after back-row stars Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio were both sin-binned for technical offences.

In the face of such adversity, it was a mighty effort by England to keep New Zealand out, and even though Howlett eventually breached their defence, the visitors richly deserved a truly remarkable triumph.

It was undoubtedly the finest moment in coach Clive Woodward's five-and-a-half year reign.

England rumbled New Zealand from the kick-off when lock Ben Kay charged down an attempted Spencer clearance, and Wilkinson's opening penalty gave them a quickfire 3-0 lead.

Spencer tied things up through an 11th-minute penalty, which signalled a concerted spell of All Blacks pressure as England's lineout badly misfired, mainly through hooker Steve Thompson's throwing.

Despite dominating the first-half territory though, New Zealand failed to turn attacking promise into points, despite scrum-half Justin Marshall and full-back Doug Howlett both going close.

England's defence held firm - Dallaglio leading from the front - and a superb Wilkinson penalty from wide out into the wind restored a three-point lead before Spencer's second successful penalty from five attempts made it 6-6 at the break.

Gloucester prop Phil Vickery replaced Jason Leonard for the second-half, and it took England just four minutes to regain the initiative when Wilkinson landed a superb 45-metre penalty.

But a promising position for England evaporated as referee Stuart Dickinson finally lost patience after he issued several warnings to players blatantly killing opposition ball.

Back was first into the sin-bin on 46 minutes, and after New Zealand launched a thrilling counter-attack barely 100 seconds later, Dallaglio emulated Back's cynical tactic, giving Dickinson little option but to brandish another yellow card.

England had lost two-thirds of their back-row, yet the defence remained water-tight, even keeping out All Blacks number eight Rodney So'oialo from close range when video referee Peter Marshall rightly ruled that he was grounded inches short.

New Zealand lost Marshall through injury - Steve Devine replaced him - and England's 13 men held out until Back returned, quickly followed by Dallaglio.

It was a colossal effort from the tourists in such testing circumstances, and they almost scored an outstanding try, taking possession through several phases until wing Ben Cohen went for glory and was tackled into touch.

Wilkinson's fourth penalty edged England further ahead as they were restored to a full 15-man complement, taking them into the final quarter on a huge psychological surge.

And Wilkinson kept them in the driving seat through an effortless drop-goal, throwing down the gauntlet as New Zealand found themselves under huge pressure.

They responded 18 minutes from time when Spencer's kick deep into English territory exploited a huge defensive hole, and Howlett's pace took him clear of a retreating Dallaglio for an outstanding try that Spencer converted.

But Spencer's penalty woes continued, with his fourth miss on 64 minutes enabling England to maintain their two-point advantage.

New Zealand threw everything at their opponents during the closing stages, yet it was England's day, setting themselves up superbly for next weekend's Melbourne encounter with world champions Australia.

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