QBE Autumn Internationals: All Blacks claim 24-21 victory over England at Twickenham
By Ben Hampshire | @BH92
Last Updated: 08/11/14 9:22pm
New Zealand clinched their fifth straight victory over England with a 24-21 Twickenham triumph on Saturday.
Tries from fly-half Aaron Cruden, captain Richie McCaw and replacement forward Charlie Faumauina were enough to see the world champions to a fourth win over England in the calendar year, as their 2012 upset against the All Blacks faded into distant memory.
After completing a series whitewash on home soil in the summer New Zealand again ensured the price was paid by England, whose points came courtesy of a Jonny May try, three Owen Farrell penalties and a late penalty try.
An occasion of more grandeur in the rugby fraternity you will seldom find and this latest blockbuster Twickenham instalment thoroughly lived up to its billing, even if Stuart Lancaster’s troops failed to serve up the impressive warning salvo they so dearly craved a year out from the Rugby World Cup.
In a week of hyperbole this, the fourth meeting between the sides in the calendar year, was promoted as a potential dress rehearsal for the World Cup final which will take place on this very stage 357 days from now.
The arrival of the All Blacks at Rugby HQ signalled the start of England’s biggest year under the tutelage of Stuart Lancaster and how fitting it was that the hosts debuted their new jerseys with Victoria Cross emblems on Remembrance Weekend.
It was not only a first appearance for England’s military-inspired shirts, though. British Army Lance Corporal Semesa Rokoduguni made his international bow and with experience of touring Afghanistan, the reconnaissance tank solider smirked through the famously daunting All Blacks Haka, which was drowned out by a rousing rendition of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ by the capacity Twickenham crowd.
Lancaster has been vocal about his desire to establish a fortress at Twickenham and backed by the fervent home support, England made an explosive start and a typically mazy run from May caught New Zealand off guard as early as the fourth minute.
With the world champions failing to clear their lines, May was released and the Gloucester winger pressed the accelerator, leaving Conrad Smith and Israel Dagg in his wake, before pumping his fist as he crossed the whitewash.
Owen Farrell hooked the conversion attempt but England remained in the ascendancy – enjoying 87% territory over the opening 10 minutes – and should have extended their advantage when May again broke loose, but this time Dagg was on hand with a pinpoint tackle.
Statistics count for nothing unless they are converted into scoreboard points, as Cruden – deputising in the absence of Dan Carter – reached out to score after the England defence wide dragged wide, though replays hinted at a double movement from the New Zealand fly-half.
Cruden’s failure to convert his own try was punished by his opposite number as Farrell reset his radar to slot two penalties in quick succession and move England six clear.
It was a lead short-lived however, as referee Nigel Owens penalised Dylan Hartley and Chris Robshaw, allowing Cruden to restore parity with two three-pointers of his own.
Farrell then spurned a drop-goal attempt, but when McCaw – the man who has forged a career from flirting with danger – was penalised at the breakdown the England fly-half took the hosts into the break with a slender 14-11 advantage.
New Zealand’s arrears should have been erased within minutes of the restart, but when Cruden’s long-range kick looped onto the woodwork England lock Dave Attwood – buoyed by the birth of his first child in the week – made a barnstorming break downfield.
It proved a fruitless foray and England were soon guilty of repeat offending as their defence was drawn in, leaving McCaw with copious time and space to take a poor pass from Dagg before turning around to dot down New Zealand’s second score.
The scoreboard advantage was just two but momentum was thoroughly swinging in favour of the tourists, although the England defence – led by faultless tackling displays from captain Robshaw, Attwood, debutant George Kruis and Ben Morgan – appeared to weather the storm.
England’s hopes were then given a shot in the arm when Owens – eschewing the recommendations of Irish TMO Simon McDowell – brandished a yellow card in the direction of New Zealand hooker Dane Cole for lashing out with his boot.
However, the hosts were unable to translate their personnel advantage into points and instead the All Blacks won the sin-bin period 3-0, with replacement fly-half Beauden Barrett putting the visitors 19-14 up.
England may have led the first-half statistics, but New Zealand entirely turned the tables in the second period and with the hosts entrenched in their own half, it became a case of preventing the inevitable.
Unable to dig their way out, England’s apprentices were taught a lesson of attrition by the masters of the trade as, piece by piece, they bore down on the England line before replacement prop Faumauina burrowed over for his maiden Test try.
The never-say-die spirit of the Lancaster philosophy remained as England launched a gutsy last-gasp comeback and although a penalty try brought them within touching distance, they once again fell just short.