New Zealand survived a spirited second-half fightback from England as they recorded an opening 26-16 tour victory on Saturday.
New Zealand managed to survive a spirited second-half fightback from England as they recorded a 26-16 victory at Twickenham on Saturday.
It really was a game of two halves in London, the visitors enjoying a great deal of ball in the first 40 before England upped their game in the second.
But tries from Hosea Gear and Kieran Read along with Dan Carter's sixteen points saw them edge their hosts, who will be encouraged by their effort.
England were adventurous and can head into next week's clash against Australia with greater belief, with New Zealand having been on the rack.
As expected, the All Blacks did come out swinging following events in Hong Kong and quickly set about putting England under some sustained pressure. Gear, Ma'a Nonu and Read were leading the fight, with the Hurricanes wing starring in the first period. He would later be rewarded.
But despite their early dominance, New Zealand would in fact be forced to wait until the seventeenth minute for the breakthrough. And as they were in the English capital, it was the old bus scenario as two quick-fire scores soon arrived. First it was Gear who managed to squeeze his way over wide out after TMO backing and then a driving finish from Read came in between conversions from the calm Carter.
England were clearly rattled and did muster some sort of pressure on the visitors' line. But it was hardly penetrable as a lack of incision seemed worrying for the home fans. One area that did bear fruit however, was the scrum as Dan Cole went well against Tony Woodcock.
Mike Ford had this week said that the Tri-Nations did not live up to proper Test rugby and he was eating his words early on. Cole, Andrew Sheridan and Steve Thompson were getting the better of their front-row opponents but it was in back-play that the Kiwis had the edge.
Carter missed a tenth-minute penalty before debutant Sonny Bill Williams showed his running strength to slip through the English midfield and feed Gear. Carter did not miss the touchline conversion though to make it 7-0.
Read then capitalised on some weak fringe defence and burrowed his way over, with the extra two points making things look ominous for England.
But fly-half Flood was starting to put his side in the right areas and his three points on 25 minutes was a boost. However, it was soon cancelled out when Lewis Moody infringed to allow Carter to add three more points for New Zealand.
After taking a hammering for the best part of 35 minutes, England finished the half promisingly although ultimately they had nothing to show for it.
The hosts' dominance of New Zealand's scrum grew in the second-half and Flood slotted a second penalty but Carter again responded immediately after Thompson had been penalised for hands in the ruck. Dylan Hartley came on and made an immediate impact, scoring his first Test try to bring England back into the game just before the hour.
England had momentum but kept shooting themselves in the foot, allowing Carter to strike two penalties either side of one from Flood that kept the All Blacks two scores clear.
Martin Johnson's charges then spent the last fifteen minutes camped in New Zealand territory and Jerome Kaino was sin-binned as the pressure began to tell.
Easter charged forward and England spread play wide left to Hape, who dived for the line but spilled the ball under pressure from Isaia Toeava as the All Blacks held on for the win.
Man of the match: Call him old fashioned or one dimensional, but Nick Easter put in the hard graft for England and just beats Dan Carter to the gong.
Moment of the match: Italian television match official Giulio De Santis awarding New Zealand their first try after one angle showed Hosea Gear having a foot in touch.
Villain of the match: A few grapples and one forearm from Dylan Hartley but all in all no one stood out for the award. Mike Ford was up there until England's second-half performance.
Pen: Flood 3
For New Zealand:
Tries: Gear, Read
Con: Carter 2
Pen: Carter 4
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody (capt), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Harltey, 17 David Wilson, 18 David Attwood, 19 Hendrie Fourie, 20 Danny Care, 21 Charlie Hodgson, 22 Delon Armitage.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Sonny Bill Williams, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (capt), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Isaia Toeava.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Stuart Dickinson (Australia), David Changleng (Scotland)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)