- Second-half fightback from England not enough to beat All Blacks
- Two tries from Julian Savea help New Zealand edge victory
New Zealand wing Julian Savea scored two tries at Twickenham Stadium for the second year in row as New Zealand withstood a courageous England fightback to win the final QBE International.
The All Blacks started like a team which had won 12 straight games and raced into a 17-3 lead in the opening quarter after tries from Savea and outstanding No.8 Kieran Read, who was omnipresent in the first half.
England have never recovered from a 14-point deficit – the previous highest was 12 against Australia in 2002 – but Stuart Lancaster’s side were defending a proud home record of their own and would not go down without a fight.
England had won six straight games at the home of rugby for the first time since 2003 and, built on a ferocious performance from their all-action pack, wrested themselves back into contention.
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Towering Joe Launchbury plundered a first-half try and six kicks from six attempts from Owen Farrell put England ahead on the hour mark, only for the classy visitors to up the intensity and create a wonderful, match-winning second for Savea.
England can be proud of their collective resolve and the way their pack bruised and bullied the illustrious visitors in the first half especially, but ultimately Steve Hansen’s world champions had just too much.
The visitors’ stunning start was prompted by inside centre Ma’a Nonu’s neat dab over the retreating England defence, which forced Mike Brown to concede a line-out close to his own line.
Courtney Lawes rose superbly to disrupt the throw but New Zealand regained possession and Read produced an outrageous offload as three tacklers tried to shove him into touch to get the ball in Savea’s hands for an easy finish. Dan Carter, making a 100th Test appearance of a glittering career, slotted the conversion with just over two minutes on the clock, leaving England shell-shocked.
Consensus in the build-up was that the best route to success for England, shorn of six British and Irish Lions through injury, was through the physicality of the forwards. The first sign of their intensity drew a penalty from Richie McCaw at the breakdown for not rolling away on seven minutes – one of eight penalties gleaned from the visitors in the first 40 – and Farrell duly slotted the kick to get England on the board.
After a huge shove from New Zealand on England’s ball at the game’s first scrum – not a precursor for what was to follow – England were offside in the defensive line and Carter, who soon limped off, made the lead seven once again on 13 minutes.
Read then scored New Zealand’s second try on 16 with a clinical finish in the right-hand corner. Prop Owen Franks broke the line with a sharp angle past Dan Cole and Lawes and when the ball was recycled, Israel Dagg delivered the scoring pass for Read. In doing so, the 28-year-old eclipsed fellow All Black Zinzan Brooke as the most prolific No.8 in Test rugby on 15 tries.
Under a quarter of the game was played and England were 17-3 down, but despite history being against them, the pack was having none of it.
Captain Chris Robshaw ordered Farrell to boot a penalty to the corner and England’s powerful mauling game had New Zealand under pressure. After a second catch and drive deep on the All Blacks’ line, No.8 Billy Vunipola – who carried with ferocity throughout – was adjudged not to have grounded the ball by the Television Match Official.
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But England’s vivacious eight-man unit, with Joe Marler a powerful presence in the tight and the loose, were not to be denied. From the resultant five-metre scrum, possession was untidy but after Read – later sin-binned in an all-action first half – could not collect, Tom Wood got a toe on the ball for Launchbury to sneak out a long arm and dot down for his second Test try.
England had been camped in New Zealand’s 22 for more than five minutes and came away with a crucial seven-point haul after Farrell’s expert touch-line conversion made the score 17-10.
Aaron Cruden, on for Carter, dabbed over a penalty after Wood was offside in the defensive line but England surged back, gorging on 66 per cent possession and 66 per cent territory in the first 40.
Read was sent to the bin for cumulative team infringements on 33 and when the New Zealand front row were forced to stand up on the stroke of half time, Farrell took the two chances to trim the lead to four at the break.
Farrell kicked four from four in the opening period and soon booted England into the lead as the second half continued in a similar fashion to the first. After a Cruden penalty hit an upright, replacement prop Wayne Crockett illegally blocked Chris Ashton as he chased a kick and Farrell made it a one-point game.
Soon the pack were high-fiving again as the other replacement prop, Charlie Faumuina, was off his feet at a ruck, with Farrell kicking England into the lead for the first time on the hour mark to send the crowd into raptures.
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But the All Blacks are the world champions for a reason and guardians of their own recent record, which now stands at only one defeat in 34 Tests, noticeably upping their intensity after falling behind.
Full back Brown had to display immense skill and bravery on two occasions to deny certain tries in the right-hand corner, only for Nonu to create Savea’s match-clinching effort with world-class centre play on 62 minutes.
The forwards produced quick ball and Nonu fixed two men before freeing his arms and flicking a gorgeous offload to the wing, who bashed through two tacklers to score. Cruden added the conversion.
Lancaster threw on a raft of changes – Youngs brothers Tom and Ben, Ben Morgan, Geoff Parling and Toby Flood – but it was to no avail as New Zealand closed out the game.
The All Blacks now looked more assured than at any point since the early exchanges. Indeed when Flood was penalised for not rolling away, Cruden extended the lead to 30-22 – crucially two scores with less than ten minutes remaining.
It was too big an ask for an England side with little left in the tank after such an audacious comeback attempt. They did not manage to mount another surge, allowing New Zealand to breathe a sigh of relief.
England vs New Zealand teams
England: 15-Mike Brown, 14-Chris Ashton, 13-Joel Tomkins, 12-Billy Twelvetrees, 11-Ben Foden, 10-Owen Farrell, 9-Lee Dickson; 1-Joe Marler, 2-Dylan Hartley, 3-Dan Cole, 4-Joe Launchbury, 5-Courtney Lawes, 6-Tom Wood, 7-Chris Robshaw (captain), 8-Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16-Tom Youngs, 17-Matt Mullan, 18-David Wilson, 19-Geoff Parling, 20-Ben Morgan, 21-Danny Care, 22-Toby Flood, 23-Alex Goode.
New Zealand: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Charles Piutau, 13-Ben Smith, 12-Ma’a Nonu, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Dan Carter, 9-Aaron Smith; 1-Tony Woodcock 2-Keven Mealamu, 3-Owen Franks, 4-Brodie Retallick, 5-Sam Whitelock, 6-Liam Messam, 7-Richie McCaw (captain), 8-Kieran Read.
Replacements: 16-Dane Coles, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Charlie Faumuina, 19-Luke Romano, 20-Steven Luatua, 21-Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22-Aaron Cruden, 23-Ryan Crotty.