The world champs battled back from 15 points down, but will be breathing a sigh of relief to escape Twickenham with victory.
New Zealand 16
TMO CONTROVERSY OVERSHADOWED the end of another England Test today, but this time it was the tourists who benefitted and came away with a one-point win.
After New Zealand battled back from 15 points down to lead in Twickenham, a Courtney Lawes chargedown and Sam Underhill break looked set to give Eddie Jones’ side a decisive lead.
The celebrations were short-lived however as the TMO adjudged Lawes to be offside before TJ Perenara’s attempted box-kick and New Zealand were able to celebrate a narrow, nervy win thanks to the boot of Beauden Barrett and a Damien McKenzie try.
England got off to a brilliant start in the driving rain, capitalising on Brodie Retallick’s early error to set an early attack in motion deep in Kiwi territory. Ben Youngs flung a sublime skip pass to the blindside right flank where Chris Ashton had more than enough power to accelerate off wet turf and over the try-line despite the last-ditch efforts of McKenzie.
Owen Farrell missed the resulting conversion, but a sweetly-stuck drop-goal after 10 minutes gave England an 8-0 lead to show for their early physical dominance.
And when a frenzied white maul rolled over the try-line to allow Dylan Hartley touch down, even the back-to-back world champions knew they had a steep hill to climb back into the game.
Yet climb they did. Trailing 15-0 with time running out in the first-half, captain Kieran Read bullishly passed up the chance for an easy three points, instead opting for an attacking scrum. The confidence in his team-mates was rewarded within two phases as Barrett’s reverse pass is eaten up by McKenzie before the fullback crashes over under the posts.
And there was more to dampen the Twickenham mood before half-time as the All Blacks mounted another attack and, this time, settled for a kick at goal which was knocked over by Barrett to leave the tourists with just a 15-10 deficit heading into the second half.
If ever there is evidence that New Zealand are taking a Test very seriously indeed it is the sight of an All Black 10 shaping to take on a rare drop-goal.
On the day of his 71st cap, Barrett slotted his first international drop-goal to make it a one-point game.
Barrett continued to make doubts over his kicking ability look foolish come the hour mark, booting his side into the lead off the tee to complete an impressive 16-point turnaround in the space of just over 20 match minutes.
An absorbing contest came extremely close to taking one more big twist. With just five minutes left on the clock, Lawes got a big hand to Perenara’s box-kick and Underhill turned last man Barrett inside out before he grounded what he thought would be a winning try in the left corner.
But as the previous ruck was replayed in slow motion to show Lawes ahead of the front-most foot, it was clear the try could not be allowed to stand.
After one last English attack ended in error, New Zealand showed little hesitation in kicking the ball out when the clock went red. They take the one-point win and march on to Dublin where they will battle Ireland for the right to take the world number one ranking through to 2019.
Subscribe to our new podcast, Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42, here: