Brave England slip to late defeat
11:08am Saturday 7th June 2014 in © Press Association 2014
England slipped to a painful late defeat in their first Test against New Zealand knowing that a glorious opportunity to topple the world champions had eluded them.
It took a 78th-minute try from Conrad Smith to complete a 15th successive victory for the All Blacks, whose two-decade triumphant run at Eden Park continues following the 20-15 success.
Freddie Burns landed four penalties and Danny Cipriani kicked three points to keep England in the hunt until Smith dived over in the right corner.
England had Marland Yarde in the sin-bin at the time and will feel a sense of grievance from the overall performance of referee Nigel Owens.
The score was locked at 9-9 until the 64th minute as the outstanding Burns and Aaron Cruden exchanged penalties in a desperately tight 13th showdown between the rivals in New Zealand.
The All Blacks only took the lead for the first time in the 71st minute as a desperately close clash unfolded in Auckland, although there was a sense of inevitability over the final outcome.
England will mourn a frustrating loss but the performance offers hope they can snatch at least one Test from a series that continues in Dunedin next Saturday before concluding in Hamilton seven days later.
At times they contributed to their own downfall through unforced errors, most notably from butter-fingered prop David Wilson, although given England's dominance at the scrum it would be harsh to criticise the Bath tighthead.
New Zealand started as 1/16 favourites knowing their opponents were missing their Aviva Premiership finalists and struggling with a lengthy injury list.
But there was no sense of inferiority as England made a fine start with Chris Robshaw charging into space in an impressive early run and moments later Manu Tuilagi was bundled into touch.
New Zealand had strayed offside and Burns sent the ball between the uprights to draw first blood.
Ma'a Nonu and Burns sent kicks out on the full, but wing Jonny May then invited pressure on England when he knocked on while attempting to catch a kick on his own 22.
Danger loomed as the All Blacks expertly probed the tourists' defence until a telegraphed inside pass was dropped by Richie McCaw, although a penalty under the posts meant Cruden was able to level the score.
Robshaw led the response that started when James Haskell was sent rampaging into space and ended with Kyle Eastmond being tackled just short of the whitewash by Israel Dagg.
England maintained the pressure with Eastmond, Haskell and Tuilagi carrying well and a fine spell was completed by a second Burns penalty.
The outlook continued to brighten when New Zealand were penalised and Burns landed the three points.
Leicester-bound fly-half Burns was playing superbly, defying the dismal form he has shown this season as he brought Nonu down with a brave tackle.
A soft penalty allowed Cruden to reduce the deficit to 9-6, but England pressed again with a fine kick from Eastmond forcing the alert Dagg into action.
Once again May invited pressure on to England but luckily the All Blacks' indiscipline concluded a moment of panic.
New Zealand are famed for their ability to move up the gears, but they were unable to establish any momentum in the face of steely resistance from their opponents.
Scrum-half Aaron Smith exploited space down the left wing and only the intervention of Ben Morgan prevented a certain try.
England came alive in the 59th minute when Eastmond dummied and side-stepped his way into space, but his pass to the supporting Brown was too high.
Burns and Cruden ensured a nail-biting finish awaited as they each landed penalties.
The momentum was with England but disaster struck as they pressed with Brodie Retallick pouncing on a mistake by Ben Youngs and galloping free until he was hauled down by Yarde.
Yarde was caught on the wrong side of the ruck and sent to the sin-bin with Cruden subsequently kicking New Zealand into the lead for the first time.
England responded with a penalty from substitute Cipriani and then profited when Cruden decided to take a quick-tap instead of going for goal and Victor Vito was held up just short of the line.
But the killer blow was landed moments later when Conrad Smith took advantage of an over-stretched defence to cross in the right corner and the All Blacks had won.