The All Blacks rebounded from 15-0 down to beat England 16-15 at Twickenham on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
England were written off in the lead-up to this battle against the world champions. Following a poor Six Nations campaign, a series loss in South Africa and an unconvincing win over the Boks last Saturday, an injury-hit England side was expected to lose by a big margin against a well-rested All Blacks outfit.
With that in mind, perhaps Eddie Jones and his charges will take heart from the showing and ultimately a one-point loss to the No 1 side at Twickenham on Saturday.
They may focus on the positives, such as the manner in which they won the collisions and impressed at the maul in the opening quarter, and how they kicked for territory and won the aerial contest. They may come out of this clash believing that a victory against the All Blacks at the 2019 World Cup – should the teams meet in the playoffs – is within their grasp.
On the other hand, they should be disappointed with their management of the game towards the end of the first half and for much of the second. A side like England should be expected to win after taking a 15-0 lead, even against the All Blacks.
The conditions could not have been any worse. When Brodie Retallick dropped the ball at the kickoff, the capacity crowd at Twickenham reacted accordingly. Maybe, just maybe this would be England’s day.
The All Blacks took some time to adjust to the conditions as well as the physicality of the hosts. England were rewarded for their ferocity when Chris Ashton crashed over in the right-hand corner.
Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly converted England’s early physical dominance into territory. Farrell sunk a drop goal in the 10th minute to keep his side on the front foot.
A well directed high ball was dropped by fullback Damian McKenzie – with flyhalf Beauden Barrett catching the rebound in an offside position. England kicked the resultant penalty to touch, and then proceeded to march their maul over the All Blacks line. Farrell converted Dylan Hartley’s try to extend England’s lead.
The All Blacks did not panic. Captain Kieran Read turned down a kickable penalty in the 36th minute. The visitors launched from the scrum, and eventually breached the England line when Barrett found McKenzie with a clever inside pass.
England had failed the first test in allowing the All Blacks to hit back before half-time. The visitors weren’t done, though, and managed to add three more points – via Barrett – before the whistle. England went to the break with a 15-10 lead.
The momentum of the game started to shift in New Zealand’s favour. The All Blacks managed to win more possession and spend more time in England’s half of the pitch. If not for some handling errors – in admittedly difficult conditions – they would have breached the line several times at the start of the second stanza.
Barrett nailed a drop goal in the 46th minute, though, to earn his team some reward. On the hour, the All Blacks flyhalf kicked a penalty to propel his side into the lead for the first time in the contest.
TJ Perenara’s attempted box kick was charged down by Courtney Lawes in the 76th minute, and Sam Underhill swooped to collect the bouncing ball. The openside flanker then proceeded to step round Barrett and then dive towards the corner. Twickenham erupted in the wake of what they believed was the winning score.
The TMO felt differently. Marius Jonker ruled that Lawes had played Perenara from an offside position.
England had more than their fair share of luck in last week’s 12-11 win over the Boks – a match that ended in controversial circumstances when Farrell shoulder charged André Esterhuizen in the 84th minute and escaped sanction. On this occasion, however, the officials’ call went against the men in white.
England enjoyed one final chance to score, but failed to control possession deep in the All Blacks’ half. The visitors did well to run down the clock and secure the result, much to the crowd’s disgust. A chorus of boos rang around the ground after Barrett kicked the ball into touch.
England – Tries: Chris Ashton, Dylan Hartley. Conversion: Owen Farrell. Drop goal: Farrell.
All Blacks – Try: Damian McKenzie. Conversion: Beauden Barrett. Penalties: Barrett (2). Drop goal: Barrett.
England – 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (co-c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Brad Shields, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dylan Hartley (co-c), 1 Ben Moon.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Courtney Lawes, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Jack Nowell.
All Blacks – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images