Rusty All Blacks begin Scott Robertson era with dramatic victory over gallant England as missed kicks prove costly

Planet Rugby
All Blacks wing Sevu Reece celebrates scoring a try v England in 2024.

All Blacks wing Sevu Reece celebrates scoring a try v England in 2024.

The All Blacks began Scott Robertson’s reign with a tight and tense victory as they overcame England 16-15 at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

There were a few errors from both sides but it proved to be a thrilling contest. It may have New Zealand’s first game under Robertson but they showed some fluency in attack in the first half, scoring two tries via Sevu Reece and Ardie Savea.

Maro Itoje had given the Red Rose a 7-5 advantage before Savea’s try re-established the hosts lead. However, Marcus Smith’s penalty levelled matters at the interval.

Smith would struggle off the tee, missing two relatively simple attempts, but he was influential in attack and assisted the score for Immanuel Feyi-Waboso’s score.

Those missed kicks would prove costly, though, and successive Damian McKenzie three-pointers enabled the All Blacks to kick-start the Robertson era with a tense win over the English.

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England were outstanding in patches and they showed tremendous fight when it was needed to stay in contention, but they finished knowing they had missed a glorious opportunity to upset a side that is rebuilding after the World Cup.

Smith was unable to reward a dominant early scrum penalty by missing a routine kick and when an ugly line-out invited pressure, the All Blacks staged a sustained attack.

Having faltered close to the line because of a knock-on and then conceded a scrum free-kick, they regrouped to claim the opening try with Reece grabbing McKenzie’s cross-field kick to touch down.

England hit back impressively, their runners flooding through gaps until a line-out provided the platform for Chandler Cunningham-South to power forward before Itoje surged over.

But their joy was shortlived because they cracked on New Zealand’s next attack, Ben Earl missing a tackle on Stephen Perofeta as part of a disjointed defensive line and a pass later Savea had scored.

With prop Joe Marler off the pitch due to injury and debutant Fin Baxter on in his place, England’s scrum was struggling and there were worrying signs as the All Blacks showed the confidence to run the ball from their 22.

The tourists were unable to make the most of their own possession, promising moments breaking down by mistimed runs and inaccurate passing.

But they finished the half with a Smith penalty to draw level at 10-10 and the chance to take the lead moments after the interval went begging when the Harlequins fly-half missed with an ugly attempt from the tee.

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Redemption then came quickly for Smith, who ignited an attack with a delayed off-load to Cunningham-South and several phases of forward carries later he flung out a long pass for Feyi-Waboso to stroll in.

McKenzie was successful with a penalty as England began to suffer at the breakdown and although the visitors had taken an element of control of the game, New Zealand’s fly-half was able to grab another three points.

The All Blacks had the ball for much of the last 10 minutes yet they blundered when McKenzie allowed the shot clock to run down when lining up another penalty.

As a result, England had the opportunity to stage an overtime attack but the last-gasp attempt ended with yet another breakdown infringement.

The teams

New Zealand: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Jordie Barrett, 11 Mark Tele’a, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Dalton Papali’i, 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Scott Barrett (c), 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Beauden Barrett

England: 15 George Furbank, 14 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Lawrence, 11 Tommy Freeman, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Chandler Cunningham-South, 5 George Martin, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Jamie George (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Fin Baxter, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Alex Coles, 20 Tom Curry, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Fin Smith, 23 Ollie Sleightholme

Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

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