England ended world champions New Zealand’s 20-match unbeaten run with a stunning 38-21 victory at Twickenham on Saturday.
Tries from Brad Barritt, Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi helped England, who had been 15-0 up early in the second half, stave off an All Blacks fightback that saw the visitors close to within a point at 15-14.
This was England’s record margin of victory over the All Blacks, surpassing a 13-0 success in 1936 and their record score against New Zealand, beating the 31 points they managed in a 31-28 win in 2002.
It was only England’s seventh win in 35 Tests against the World Cup winners and their first since 2003 as they ended a run of nine straight defeats by the All Blacks.
Indeed, this was New Zealand’s first defeat against any side since a 25-20 loss to Australia in Brisbane in July last year.
Owen Farrell may have been a shock choice alongside New Zealand’s Dan Carter as one of four nominees for the International Rugby Board player of the year award, but he outplayed his opposing flyhalf in a first half that ended with England 12-0 ahead.
In all the 21-year-old, in for the injured Toby Flood, kicked 17 points as England ended the year on a high and ensured New Zealand captain Richie McCaw’s last match before a six-month break ended in defeat.
England’s victory was all the more impressive as it came on the back of defeats by Australia and South Africa.
“To put that scoreline on an All Blacks side that good is way beyond what we could have asked for, but we’ve had the belief all through the week,” England coach Stuart Lancaster told Sky Sports.
“There was a lot of composure at halftime, real clarity of thought, and that’s what’s grown over the last few weeks. We’ve always had the energy and the attitude, but today we put the top six inches on,” Lancaster said.
Meanwhile, McCaw said: “It’s bitterly disappointing. We struggled to get any sort of momentum and England played particularly well — credit to them. You’re prepared for a big battle and that’s the way it was, they caught us on the hop. They’re a good team and they took their chances.”
England knocked New Zealand out of their stride, both in the forwards and the backs, with blindside flanker Tom Wood especially outstanding.
When New Zealand, several of whose side were laid low with a virus this week, had a chance to open the scoring in the 15th minute the normally reliable Carter was off-target with a 39m penalty.
Soon afterwards England, from a scrum penalty, kicked into the New Zealand 22 to set up a series of attacking line-outs.
The ball was worked across field only for Ashton to drop a pass from fullback Alex Goode meters out from the New Zealand line.
However, the All Blacks had infringed earlier in the move and Farrell kicked the resulting close-range penalty.
Minutes later Carter, Test rugby’s all-time leading points scorer, missed his second penalty attempt when a 31m effort went wide.
In open play England were forcing turnovers, as well as other All Blacks errors, and Farrell kicked a 40m penalty.
England then disrupted a New Zealand line-out and, from the drive forward, Farrell dropped a goal.
There was still time for Farrell to extend England’s lead to 12-0 at halftime with another penalty.
Early in the second half England went further ahead when, after a New Zealand scrum collapsed, Farrell made no mistake with a difficult, 41m penalty to leave his side 15-0 in front.
However, after a break by New Zealand’s Cory Jane set up a line-out in England’s 22, the ball was worked across field and left-wing Julian Savea went in for the first try of the match.
Carter converted and England’s lead had been cut to 15-7.
Two minutes later New Zealand crossed again, good work by Jane and Conrad Smith sending No. 8 Kieran Read in for a converted try.
England were now just 15-14 up, but they then stemmed the All Blacks recovery with three tries in a dramatic eight-minute spell to the delight of a capacity Twickenham crowd.
Good interplay between centers Barritt and Tuilagi saw Barritt cross in the 52nd minute.
England then won quick ball off a line-out and Tuilagi smashed his way past Carter before sending in Ashton.
Farrell missed both conversions, but then Tuilagi intercepted Read’s pass and sprinted over for a try, with Farrell adding the extras.
England replacement Freddie Burns kicked two penalties and although Savea scored his second try, it was too late for the All Blacks.