LONDON (Reuters) - New Zealand learned valuable lessons in a hostile environment as they came from behind to eke out a 16-15 win over England at a rain-lashed Twickenham on Saturday.
The world champions trailed 15-0 after England scored two early tries and although the All Blacks never threatened to cut loose with their usual flowing rugby, they did enough to notch up another win less than a year before their World Cup defence.
“England were very, very good and we showed a lot of character in a hostile environment after being 15-0 down and in the weather conditions,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen told a news conference.
“It wasn’t conducive to playing razzle-dazzle rugby. We showed a lot of character.”
England started fast and recalled winger Chris Ashton scored a try within two minutes before co-captain Dylan Hartley was driven over from a rolling maul to give England hope of repeating their famous win over New Zealand in 2012.
“They started extremely well. We were on the back foot straight away but we just had to work things out. It’s been a while since we played in these conditions,” New Zealand captain Kieran Read said.
The All Blacks regrouped and, after refusing a kickable penalty, a scything run by replacement centre Ryan Crotty set up a position for flyhalf Beauden Barrett to flick a neat inside pass to fullback Damian McKenzie who scorched over the line.
Barrett converted and added a penalty as New Zealand narrowed England’s lead to 15-10 at halftime.
“Those 10 points were vital for us,” Hansen said. “It’s all about using that momentum when you’ve got it.”
Barrett’s drop goal and another penalty edged New Zealand ahead, but they had to endure a nervous wait after England flanker Sam Underhill took advantage of a charge down and sprinted 30 metres down the left wing to touch down with four minutes left.
The TMO ruled out the try and Hansen agreed that England replacement forward Courtney Lawes had been offside before charging down the kick.
“There’s no doubt he was off-side, just about in the halfback’s back pocket,” Hansen said. “What was going through my mind was were they brave enough to make the right decision and they were.”
New Zealand duly closed out the win and Read was delighted with his team’s resolve ahead of next week’s test against Ireland, the world’s second-ranked team.
“There were some great lessons,” Read said. “Not many guys in our team have played at Twickenham against the English. It’s about trust and belief, we had to roll our sleeves up.
“The English really came at us and showed it for the full 80 so I’m really proud of my lads.”
Hansen praised his players’ resilience.
“You are not going to be able to control all the moments in the game and to have momentum all the time,” he said.
“We had the self-belief and mental fortitude to hang in there.”
Reporting by Ed Osmond; editing by Tony Lawrence