NZ Kiwis beat England 16 - 14 to claim final spot
In a match featuring six tries, all by the wingers, the Kiwis just prevailed before a boisterous crowd of 15,836 in the first league Test in Dunedin since 1928.
The England backs surprised with their innovative attack, especially big winger Ryan Hall, and the Kiwis breathed a sigh of relief at the final siren.
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New Zealand were intent on improvement after their unconvincing 14-12 win over Samoa, while England had to overcome the disappointment of their unlucky 16-12 loss to Australia.
There were two late changes, Thomas Leuluai starting and swapping places with Issac Luke who went to the interchange while Daryl Clark replaced Josh Hodgson at hooker for England.
New Zealand made the best possible start with a try after less than two minutes when Hall was unable to gather a pin-point bomb from Shaun Johnson and Jason Nightingale gathered to score. Johnson’s conversion made it 6-0.
But England struck back five minutes later with a sweeping move which gave Hall the overlap and a try just inside the left corner flag. Gareth Widdop’s conversion bounced away off the left upright.
New Zealand almost scored their second try after 22 minutes but Manu Vatuvei lost the ball over the line in the tackle. England swept back to attack immediately and right winger Josh Charnley scored in the corner from a long cut-out pass. Widdop’s conversion attempt again hit the upright.
But the Kiwis regained the lead 12 minutes from the break when Nightingale, who had earlier left the field to have a cut to his head stitched, scored his second try after Dean Whare provided the overlap. Johnson’s wide-angled conversion made it 12-8.
England were attacking strongly on the siren and had stretched the Kiwis defensively in the first half, their two tries by the wingers exposing New Zealand out wide.
England almost made a perfect start to the second spell but fullback Peta Hiku just managed to get across to dislodge the ball from Hall’s grasp as he dived for the corner.
New Zealand made the most of the reprieve, sweeping down the field where Vatuvei took the last pass to score in the corner. Johnson narrowly missed the conversion but the Kiwis had a handy 16-8 lead.
But England were not done and, when the Kiwis dropped a high ball, Hall was put into space and scored his second try. Widdop converted superbly and it was a two-point game.
There was everything to play for going into the last quarter. Simon Mannering almost scored, Johnson split the defence with a dazzling run, but the difference in the end came down to Widdop’s two “posters” and Johnson’s superior accuracy.