England 15 New Zealand 16: England so close to bringing All Blacks to their knees
NO ONE truly thought it would be this close but spirited England made world champions New Zealand fight until the death to edge a pulsating Test match.
Indeed, Eddie Jones' side were outstanding in the first period when, in filthy conditions, they built up a 15-0 lead that left the All Blacks stunned.
Winger Chris Ashton, making his first England start in four years, scored within two minutes and co-captain Dylan Hartley also crossed in a quality opening to the game at Twickenham.
Even when New Zealand got their act together and battled back to gain the lead on the hour mark, England - following on from last week's win over South Africa - looked capable of claiming a shock victory.
They fought they had done just that when Courtney Lawes charged down TJ Perenara's box kick in the 76th minute.
Sam Underhill, who excelled at openside, brilliantly turned All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett, the World Player of the Year, inside out to sprint in from 20m.
However, the TMO was called upon and, after numerous replays, it was eventually deemed Lawes had been offside.
It was tough on England but, in their first appearance against the All Blacks in four years, this display will fill them with confidence about what they need to do at the 2019 World Cup next year.
Right from the actual kick-off, England had their opponents in trouble.
Brodie Retallick fumbled trying to gather Farrell’s hanging kick and the hosts had an immediate chance to launch an attack. They did not waste it.
As numbers loaded left at a ruck, Ben Youngs picked up and saw Ashton in acres of space the other way.
The scrum-half lofted a long, high ball and it gave Ashton just enough space to speed to the corner, sliding in as an embarrassed Rieko Ioane failed to recover in time.
It was the perfect start - Ashton’s try came after just 115 seconds - and they dominated the majority of the first half; Underhill smashed one All Black into touch, Jonny May chased down a perfectly-weighted grubber to force Damian McKenzie into conceding a five metre scrum, then they stole a line-out and on it went, all in New Zealand territory.
Farrell dropped a goal in the 10th minute and, with the struggling visitors bizarrely and continually kicking possession aimlessly away, they were only encouraged further.
They added their second try with a supreme effort in the 24th minute after Beauden Barrett had needlessly nudged Ashton when he was chasing down a high kick.
Maro Itoje, who excelled after a scratchy display against the Springboks, claimed a line-out before his side executed a perfect driving maul from 15m out.
By the end, Ashton, Farrell and fellow backs Henry Slade and Ben Te'o had all joined in to help get over the line with co-captain Dylan Hartley scoring.
Farrell improved and suddenly his side were 15-0 up against the world champions and oozing confidence.
The All Blacks, on the other hand, were rattled; Elliot Daly prevented Barrett's penalty kick finding touch, an Aaron Smith box-kick sailed straight out, top centre Sonny Bill-Williams departed injured and the visitors didn't muster a clean break until Ben Smith surged clear just before the half-hour.
Even then, England comfortably dealt with the matter.
However, when Steve Hansen's side reverted to norm - and actually kept the ball - they did, at last muster some points.
It was no surprise when they earned a penalty after 23 phases but they opted against the three points and eventually got over in the 39th minute.
It was full-back McKenzie - their main threat - who capitalised from Barrett’s lovely inside pass to penetrate close the the line.
Barrett improved and, after Farrell's restart criminally went straight into touch, added a penalty to make it 15-10 and change the entire look of the contest.
New Zealand should have gone ahead almost immediately in the second period when McKenzie pierced them again but Andre Savea somehow spilled Aaron Smith's final pass with the line gaping.
Barrett did come away with a drop goal soon after but England responded.
Twice they turned down kickable penalties but, crucially, both times came away with nothing.
Kyle Sinckler had the best chance but spilled Itoje’s short pass before - after McKenzie's miscued kick - England wasted another chance when Jamie George was penalised for a dummy throw at the resulting line-out.
The All Blacks made the most of that error when they worked their way downfield to earn their own penalty on the hour where Barrett made no mistake to put his side ahead for the first time.
Farrell was then needed to chase down McKenzie but the hosts had those chances to recover the lead.
Unfortunately for Jones' side there was not quite as much composure as shown in the first period, their line-out in particular going shaky.
But what a performance overall and so many positives for him ahead of the remaining autumn internationals against Japan and Australia.
England: Daly; Ashton (Nowell 68), Slade, Te’o (Ford 72), May; Farrell; Youngs (Care 63); Moon (Hepburn 58), Hartley (George 40), Snickler (Williams 58), Itoje, Kruis (Ewels 66), Shields (Lawes 64 (27-40 HIA) ), Underhill, Wilson.
New Zealand: McKenzie (Mo’unga 63); B Smith, Goodhue, Williams (Crosby 30), Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith (Perenara 63); Tu’inukuafe (Tuungafasi 56), Taylor (Coles 44), Franks (Laulala 44), Retallick, Whitelock, Squire (S Barrett 52), Savea (Todd 68), Read.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)