LONDON (Reuters) - England produced one of their finest performances ever to stun New Zealand 38-21 and end the world champions’ 20-game unbeaten run in the most spectacular style on a memorable and quite remarkable afternoon at Twickenham on Saturday.
New Zealand, who had won their last nine games against England and not dropped a European tour game for 10 years, were 12-1 on favourites at the start.
But they were outplayed in every department by a callow England team beaten by Australia and South Africa in the last two weeks, but who chalked up their highest score and a record margin against a team being increasingly touted as the best to have played the game.
England deservedly led 12-0 at halftime via the boot of Owen Farrell and, though the All Blacks closed to within a point with quickfire tries to Julian Savea and Keiran Read, the hosts roared back with tries by Brad Barritt, an inspired Manu Tuilagai and Chris Ashton.
New Zealand, perhaps suffering the effects of illness that hit the camp this week, got another Savea try but England, with only 206 caps in their starting XV to the 789 of their feted rivals, dominated to the whistle to end coach Stuart Lancaster’s first year in charge on an unexpected high.
“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,” Lancaster said in an on-pitch interview.
”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.
“I‘m just chuffed for the boys, we’ve all copped it but we all stayed tight and I‘m just pleased they’ve got their day in the sun.”
It was a result nobody saw coming after the contrasting fortunes of the two teams in their previous outings over the last three weeks. But from the moment the Haka was drowned out by a rousing rendition of “Sweet Chariot” New Zealand knew they were not going to have things all their own way.
Strong in the scrum, massively aggressive at the breakdown and tackle and determined in their running lines, England never allowed the All Blacks a moment to breathe.
The world champions barely threatened England’s line in the first half and even Dan Carter, who has known only unbroken personal and team success against the men in white in nine previous victories, was off key as he missed two penalties he would normally have gobbled up and screwed one clearance horribly.
This week’s listing of Farrell alongside Carter on the shortlist as world player of the year was greeted with incredulity in the rugby world but it was the youngster who cannot even command the flyhalf starting berth at his own club who looked the most accomplished number 10 on duty on Saturday.
Farrell slotted all three of his penalty attempts, including one just shy of halfway after 40 minutes, and clipped over a drop goal as England reached halftime in a relative dream world.
New Zealand had never been close to being tested in their three previous tour wins over Scotland, Italy and Wales and coach Steve Hansen would have earned his money in the changing rooms as his players came to terms with the unaccustomed situation having not reached halftime pointless since losing to South Africa in Wellington in 1998.
Another Farrell penalty straight after the restart made it 15-0 but the visitors hit back quickly and devastatingly with two tries in three minutes.
Powerful left wing Savea showed great strength to touch down his 11th try in nine matches before more high-speed passing opened a huge hole for number eight Read. Carter also rediscovered his touch by converting both from wide on the left.
England did not buckle, though, and scored the sort of try the Twickenham fans have been crying out for for so long as Barritt burst clear and exchanged passes with fellow centre Tuilagi before squeezing in.
Two minutes later Tuilagi blasted through three tackles and brilliantly delayed his pass to Ashton who showed all the frustration of 11 games without a try to dive spectacularly over the line.
New Zealand did not know what had hit them, missed tackle after tackle and when Tuilagai intercepted again to score another try England’s lead of 32-14 was their highest score ever against the All Blacks.
Lancaster could even afford the luxury of bringing on Freddie Burns for his debut at flyhalf, and he slotted two penalties to leave the shell-shocked All Blacks staring at potentially their worst defeat, surpassing the 28-7 loss to Australia 13 years ago.
Savea added his second try to limit the damage but it was little consolation as England who easily surpassed their record win in the fixture, a 13-0 success in 1936.
The All Blacks go into Monday’s draw for the 2015 World Cup still favourites to retain their title back at Twickenham in three years’ time but England, down amongst the second tier of seeds, will look ahead with a totally different mindset.
Editing by John Mehaffey