Conrad Smith scores only try as New Zealand edge out England in Auckland
The 32-year-old centre scored the only try of the game after England had been reduced to 14 men following the sin-binning of Marland Yarde.
For a long time it looked as though England, missing a host of regular starters, might produce one of the biggest upsets in recent times and end the All Blacks 20-year winning run at Eden Park.
However, Yarde’s yellow card gave the All Blacks a sniff and, despite an otherwise error-strewn performance in their first Test of the year, they were just too good to waste it.
Prior to Smith’s dramatic late score, which came after New Zealand had turned down the opportunity to kick for goal from a presentable position, each side had registered five penalties apiece.
England are sure to take plenty of heart from their performance, especially with Owen Farrell, Dylan Hartley, Tom Wood, Luther Burrell and Brad Barritt waiting in the wings for next weekend’s second Test in Dunedin.
Stuart Lancaster’s men threw everything at the All Blacks and for large parts of the first half had the world champions rattled.
The battle at the breakdown was fierce and number eight Ben Morgan was bruising with ball in hand, while Manu Tuilagi regularly got over the gain line and the scrum and lineout were equally fiercely contested.
There was no doubt the All Blacks were their own worst enemies at times, making numerous mistakes, but they ultimately did enough to make it 15 wins on the trot.
England took the game to New Zealand from the opening whistle and fly-half Freddie Burns put over three penalties either side of a solitary reply from Aaron Cruden.
The hosts were level at 9-9 by the interval courtesy of two more kicks from Cruden, although Burns put a drop-kick attempt wide after the half-time hooter had sounded.
On his return to international rugby, Jerome Kaino spurned a golden opportunity in the 55th minute, knocking on with the line begging after Yarde failed to gather a kick from Aaron Smith.
Burns soon put England back in front, but Cruden again levelled the scores and the game swung the All Blacks’ way when Yarde was sent to the sinbin for deliberately killing the ball after Brodie Retallick had raced 30 metres up field before being hauled down by the England right winger.
Cruden kicked the resulting penalty to send the All Blacks ahead for the first time, only for replacement Danny Cipriani to level in his first England game in six years.
There was further drama when New Zealand opted to run the ball from a late penalty in a central position, but the gamble paid off.
After Ben Smith had been stopped short, Conrad Smith supplied a grandstand finish by touching down on the right flank, much to the relief of the majority in attendance in a 47,195 crowd.
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