New Zealand remain on course to complete their perfect year after beating England 30-22 at Twickenham on Saturday, but they did it the hard way after the hosts fought back from 17-3 down in a thrilling encounter.
With Twickenham rocking as England led 22-20 and scented a second successive upset win following last year’s 38-21 thrashing, the world champions regrouped and managed to send winger Julian Savea over for his second try.
Flyhalf Dan Carter lasted only 26 minutes in his 100th Test, but by that time his side were seemingly in control after Savea and Kieran Read scored.
England, with their forwards in total command, roared back with a Joe Launchbury try and superb goalkicking by Owen Farrell, and though they were edged out in the end, the performance will give their young, developing side huge encouragement.
Carter led the teams on to the pitch in recognition of his 100th cap — joining three other centurions in the All Black side — but he was hurt in an early tackle and replaced by Aaron Cruden.
Only seven of England’s starting team from last year’s stunning 38-21 victory survived, while 13 of the All Blacks were on duty, including Read, the No. 8 who has made such an impact this season.
He was to the fore again from the start as he delivered a trademark offload after 90 seconds, despite the attention of three tacklers, leaving Savea an easy score.
A rare charge by prop Owen Franks blasted another hole in England’s defense and Read took advantage to stretch the lead to 17-3 after 17 minutes.
England looked to be reeling, but got back to basics and controlled the rest of the half, finding a way to smother and frustrate the All Blacks in a way that none of their southern hemisphere rivals ever seem able to do.
England’s forwards hammered at the line with a series of rolling mauls and after the TV match official ruled out a score by No. 8 Billy Vunipola, he then found in favor of the hosts to allow one for Launchbury moments later.
Cruden marked his entry with a penalty after 27 minutes, but it was a rare highlight for the visitors as England poured on the pressure, allowing Farrell’s boot to reduce the deficit to 20-16 at the break as Read was sin-binned as a result of persistent All Black indiscretions.
England maintained their tempo from the restart and after Cruden hit a post with a penalty Farrell slotted one to make it a one-point game with 25 minutes remaining.
As the only team to have beaten the All Blacks in 33 matches England had real belief and that grew further when another series of really aggressive attacks drew another penalty that Farrell landed to put them ahead after an hour.
While the home fans went wild, visiting captain Richie McCaw drew his players around him for a huddle as he tried to find a way to turn the tide.
It seemed to work and great work by Ma’a Nonu sent Savea over for his second try.
Cruden converted, then added another penalty to make sure and keep his side on course for a remarkable clean sweep of 14 wins from 14 games this year, which they can complete by beating Ireland in Dublin next week.
Meanwhile, Wales tasted victory in a home Autumn International for the first time since 2009 when they walloped Argentina 40-6 at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
The Six Nations champions had gone 11 end-of-year Tests without a home victory, but they ended that run in clinical fashion against the Pumas despite having two players sent to the sin bin.
Mike Phillips and George North scored first-half tries, while Leigh Halfpenny kicked 13 points in the opening period.
Argentine flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez did pull a penalty back for the visitors, but it was Wales who led 23-3 at the break.
Halfpenny and Sanchez traded penalties at the start of the second period, before Toby Faletau and replacement hooker Ken Owens touched down.
Welsh kicking sensation Halfpenny converted both tries and another penalty to take his personal haul to 20 points.
In other internationals on Saturday, Australia defeated Ireland 32-15, France beat Tonga 38-18 and Italy were victorious over Fiji 37-31.