All Blacks hold off England fightback
November 16, 2013
Julian Savea grabs the game's first try
© Getty Images
England slipped to an heroic 30-22 defeat against world champions New Zealand in an epic conclusion to the autumn internationals at Twickenham.
The All Blacks, self-styled as "most dominant team in the history of the world", were challenged until the final whistle by opposition that entered a breathless Test as 1/10 underdogs. In a display of grit and courage, England fought back from a 17-3 deficit as tries from Julian Savea and Kieran Read threatened to put the game beyond their reach inside the first quarter.
But a scrappy try from Joe Launchbury and the kicking of Owen Farrell, who landed five penalties and a conversion, established a 22-20 lead against all odds as the final 20 minutes beckoned. England were outstanding, producing their best rugby of the autumn by some margin as they tore into the All Blacks with a display of indomitable spirit.
But when offered a sniff of the line, New Zealand plundered the decisive try through man of the match Savea with 17 minutes left and remained on top until the end. England's line-out functioned beautifully and provided the launch pad for a fightback founded on the grunt of their magnificent pack, who ground the feared All Blacks into submission for 30 minutes.
A seventh successive victory at Twickenham may have eluded them, but head coach Stuart Lancaster will have taken enormous satisfaction from a display that suggests they are a genuine threat to New Zealand's crown at the 2015 World Cup. The All Blacks avenged their record 38-21 defeat in the same fixture last autumn and completed their 13th successive win this year, but it was their greatest test of the season.
Dan Carter joined the ranks of rugby's Test centurions, but his afternoon lasted just 26 minutes until injury ended his involvement. The fifth All Black to reach 100 caps contributed a penalty and two conversions before making way for Aaron Cruden.
The Haka was inaudible in the stands as Twickenham broke into a rendition of 'Swing Low', but home fans were stunned into silence when England's line was breached after just 105 seconds. New Zealand broke down the left wing through Read and some naive defending saw the number eight suck in Chris Ashton, Tom Wood and Billy Vunipola.
Somehow Read slipped a pass out to the lurking Savea and the wing had the simplest of run-ins with Carter converting. A penalty from Farrell briefly pierced the All Blacks' dominance, but producing turnover ball at their own scrum quickly brought them crashing back to earth.
Ben Foden thought he had scored a try after intercepting and running two thirds of the pitch, but referee Craig Joubert had spotted offside. To rub salt into Foden's wound, Carter kicked the penalty. By the 18th minute New Zealand had surged 17-3 ahead with their second try started when lock Brodie Retallick sent prop Owen Franks racing through a gap.
The ball was recycled quickly and fed right where Foden was outnumbered and Read easily loped over. Carter added the conversion. Finally England exerted some pressure, declining a shot at goal and kicking for touch to enable their forwards to pound away at the All Blacks' line.
They appeared to have mauled their way over, but video referee Gareth Simmonds controversially refused to award the try. The score arrived moments later, however, when the ball squirted out of a five-metre scrum, touched the boots of Chris Robshaw and Wood before falling to Launchbury who gathered it up and fell over the line.
Farrell converted and then exchanged penalties with Cruden, reducing the deficit to 20-13 and with the added benefit of Read being sent to the sin-bin for entering a breakdown from the side. The pendulum had swung in the final 10 minutes of the first half, England's resurgence founded on their dominant pack and Joubert's willingness to penalise the All Blacks at the breakdown.
And the shift in power continued after the interval as England produced their best passage of play with their backs also involved, only for Ashton to kick the ball away. The action was captivating as New Zealand counter-attacked, missed a penalty and then allowed increasingly influential Billy Twelvetrees to burst through their ranks. When Ashton was illegally blocked by Wyatt Crockett as he chased his own kick, England won a penalty landed by Farrell.
Rattled New Zealand continued to be penalised at the breakdown when they conceded again, they slipped behind for the first time in the match as Farrell hit the target. The lead lasted just four minutes, however, as the All Blacks produced a stunning response in the face of some ferocious home defence.
Desperate scrambling defence kept New Zealand out in the left corner, but a brilliant offload from Ma'a Nonu gave Savea a sniff of the line and he pounced with Cruden converting. A penalty from Cruden put the All Blacks eight points ahead and finally England's resistance had been broken.
Kieran Read was a handful throughout for England © Getty Images
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