England resist late fightback from New Zealand for series win
Last Updated: 14/11/15 11:20pm
Two tries from Elliott Whitehead helped England to a 20-14 victory over New Zealand to earn a 2-1 series win.
England were forced to endure a late comeback from the Kiwis, who scored two tries in the last seven minutes, before celebrating a first series triumph since 2007, when the New Zealanders were beaten 3-0 by Great Britain.
Coach Steve McNamara responded to the second-Test defeat in London by handing a debut to Giants winger Jermaine McGillvary and recalling scrum-half Matty Smith.
Smith, on the wrong end of England's defeats at the hands of the Kiwis in the 2013 World Cup and last year's Four Nations Series, was named man-of-the-match on his return, while captain Sean O'Loughlin also impressed on his home ground to take the man-of-the-series award. O'Loughlin completed the victory in Wigan with England's third try.
From the start, defences were once more on top but, unlike in the second Test, there was much more to entertain the crowd at the DW Stadium.
As was the case last week, Gareth Widdop opened the scoring with an early penalty for the hosts and the Kiwis' defence was subjected to a pummelling as England started with purpose.
However, New Zealand again proved enterprising as they employed their offoad game despite less than ideal conditions.
The best of three early chances to the visitors came after a clean break by hooker Issac Luke, but England scrambled magnificently to keep their line intact and they ended their unwanted record of 106 minutes without a try when Whitehead pounced on Smith's grubber kick ahead for his first score.
Widdop's conversion made it 8-0 but England's defence could not hold out for the entire half, with Jason Nightingale producing an acrobatic finish to evade the efforts of full-back Zak Hardaker. Luke's touchline goal cut the deficit to just two points.
With half-backs Peta Hiku and Kodi Nikorima a constant threat, the Kiwis came out from the break in full force as England clung on to their slender lead.
The pivotal moment came on the hour when Whitehead, who moves to the NRL with Canberra next season, was taken high by Jordan Kahu and the penalty enabled England to gain some breathing space.
Moments later Whitehead got on the end of some neat passing from James Graham and Smith to force his way over for his second try, and Widdop's third goal put two scores between the teams.
The victory was effectively sealed on 71 minutes when O'Loughlin summoned enough strength to tear his way through a jaded defence for a third try and Widdop maintained his 100 per cent record with the boot to make it 20-6.
However, England relaxed and late tries from Kiwi full-back Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Kahu meant they had to endure an anxious few moments before Whitehead booted a loose ball into touch in the final play to bring an absorbing series to a tense close.