Eden Park, Auckland was a full house on Saturday night as New Zealand took on and beat England 20 - 15.
The match and indeed, the Test series has been highly anticipated, but many believing the World Champions would overcome an almost second-strength England side, convincingly in the first test.
England were without many of their regular starters due to there involvement in the Aviva Premiership final last weekend. This meant that the likes of Freddie Burns, Kyle Eastmond and James Haskell, who are not usually considered first choice, were given the job of containing the All Blacks.
An unenviable task, especially given the location. Eden Park, is among the most intimidating arenas in the world of test rugby. The All Blacks have not lost there in 19 years, stretching back to 1995.
However any thoughts of All Black dominance were quickly dispelled. A break from England captain Chris Robshaw, forced Kiwi centre Ma'a Nonu to pull back support runner James Haskell. That led to Freddie Burns putting England in to a 3 0 lead after just three minutes.
Referee Nigel Owens deemed that a penalty was sufficient punishment for the offence when the usual sanction is a yellow card. The timing of the incident may have affected the leniency shown by Owens.
New Zealand were back on terms though, just six minutes later. Winger, Ben Smith as well as centre and name-sake, Conrad Smith combined whilst choosing good angles of running to threaten England's defensive line. England were adjudged to be offside by Owens and the ensuing penalty was converted by New Zealand fly half, Aaron Cruden, to make it 3-3 early on.
Moments later, Chris Robshaw, leading by example made another break. Good England support enabled the ball to be distributed out wide only for poor handling skills to let them down and the chance was gone.
Perhaps this moment defines why England are not the best in the world and New Zealand are. England had an early chance to score a try but because of poor execution, they did not convert the opportunity. However New Zealand, known for their ruthlessness and high execution of skills in pressure situations, went on to take their chance later in the game and inevitably win the match. A result which the world of rugby has become ever so familiar with.
England and New Zealand traded penalties throughout the first half and went in to the interval at 9-9. England were by far the better team though, both their line-out and scrum were very impressive, bordering on dominant. England and British and Irish Lion, Geoff Parling, particularly excelled at the line-out. With captain Chris Robshaw outshining his famous counterpart, Richie McCaw in the loose. England's Ben Morgan also ball carried very effectively.
In the backs it was a case of good endeavor shown by England with a lack of efficiency. Manu Tuilagi his usual powerful self, breaking numerous New Zealand tackles.
Had it not been for New Zealand's inevitably physical and superb defensive efforts, repelling the English. Combined with England's poor handling skills and a lack of composure at crucial stages, England would have and perhaps should have gone in to the break with a convincing lead.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen obviously had some words to say to his team at half time. In the first half it was evident that it was New Zealand's first test match of the season, with a lack of match practice and sharpness. The second half was a different matter.
Early in the second half, Kiwi scrum half, Aaron Smith who was a positive in the first half also. Began to orchestrate New Zealand attacks. The All Blacks showed more attacking intent, their game plan to make sure they made two passes away from contact began to see the ball getting in to the hands of their potent back-line. Stretching the English defence.
Cruden and Burns traded penalties to make it 12 12 after 67 minutes. The closest New Zealand have been run in a very long time.
England's inability to regain the ball safely from a restart was beginning to cost them, poor discipline also. They were still very much in with a chance of winning the game at this stage though.
Almost immediately though, as the clock ticked past 70 minutes, the Kiwis seemed to move in to 'winning mode'. A devastating break from second row Brodie Retallick who showed remarkable speed for such a big guy, led to England wing Marland Yarde being shown a yellow card because he failed to roll away at the break down after making a crucial try saving tackle.
Down to 14 men the English rose began to wilt. The All Blacks still by no means at their best had been on top for much of the second half. Yet the score was still 15 points a piece after 73 minutes.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man though. New Zealand's 111 cap veteran, Keven Mealamu came on to win a crucial penalty. Cruden instead of slotting over the 3 points, tapped and went from the penalty but was held up short. Two passes down the blind side was all that was needed for Conrad Smith to score a try in the corner and win the game.
Several frantic minutes ensued, with New Zealand showing their class. Come the big stage, the big pressure, the big moment, they executed the basic skills needed to win the game. And that is why they are reigning world champions and why they have lost 1 test in their last 35.
The final score 20-15 did not favor England. They however were excellent. At set piece they were on top and showed good attacking intent. A lack of composure and basic handling errors cost them the win they craved so badly. Next week though, come the second test, with several influential players back they will provide another stern test.
New Zealand were very rusty by their very high standards. They were immense in defence and had huge courage and belief in themselves when executing skills at crucial stages. That enabled them to convert their chances and win the game. That is what they do. They find a way to win. And more often than not they do.
The Kiwis will not be as poor again but equally England will be stronger in the second test. The series is by no means over and we are set up for a thrilling next two test matches.
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