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Off-form All Blacks squeeze out victory over determined England

A late try from Conrad Smith saw Stuart Lancaster’s largely second-string side denied a famous result.

Conrad Smith dives over for the winning score.
Conrad Smith dives over for the winning score.
Image: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

NEW ZEALAND SQUEEZED out a 20-15 victory over England in their Test match in Auckland this morning, with Stuart Lancaster’s side coming close to pulling off a shock result.

A 77th-minute Conrad Smith try in the right-hand corner gave Steve Hansen’s men the win, coming at the end of an attacking passage that was in sharp contrast to much of the All Blacks’ effort throughout the game.

There was a high error rate over the course of an entertaining 80 minutes at Eden Park, with the All Blacks far from their best. However, England deserve major credit for their determined showing with a largely second-string team.

Lancaster will be devastated to have left this opportunity behind, with England working their way to a 15-15 scoreline with just seven minutes remaining after substitute out-half Danny Cipriani held his nerve to slot a penalty he had created himself with a clever attacking dart.

Starting 10 Freddie Burns kicked four penalties while he was on the pitch and showed the kind of form and confidence that evaded him with Gloucester this season. Manu Tuilagi in the centre was a constant source of ball carrying strength, while England’s pack stood up powerfully in the tight.

Aaron Cruden’s five penalties kept the scoreboard ticking over for New Zealand, as knock-ons, set-piece breakdowns and rucking inaccuracies blighted their efforts to build towards tries.

Chris Robshaw dejected after the game England captain Chris Robshaw shows his dismay at a missed opportunity. Source: Photosport/Anthony Au-Yeung/INPHO

At 15-15 and with 75 minutes on the clock, Hansen’s men were awarded a kickable penalty inside the England half, directly in front of the posts. Cruden made the uncharacteristic decision to quick-tap and the All Blacks went close, before England scrambled to force a scrum.

From there, New Zealand’s winning habit and ability to execute the basic skills under pressure came to the fore. A strong scrum allowed Victor Vito to burst forward, before clinical handling by Ben Smith saw centre Conrad Smith dive over in the corner.

Cruden was wide with the conversion attempt, but a last-minute turnover penalty saw New Zealand secure the victory. This Test series moves on to Dunedin next weekend, with England set to welcome back some of their more high-profile players.

Whether England will get a better chance to beat the All Blacks, who seem certain to improve, remains to be seen.

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Murray Kinsella

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