TWICKENHAM, UK: Replacement prop Will Stuart scored two late tries as England came from behind to snatch a scarcely credible 25-25 draw against New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday.
The All Blacks twice led by 14 points, having caught England cold with two converted tries in the opening eight minutes through flanker Dalton Papali’i and hooker Codie Taylor.
Rieko Ioane’s superb try early in the second half made it 22-6 before Beauden Barrett added a drop-goal to put New Zealand a seemingly impregnable 19 points ahead.
England, however, hit back with three tries in the closing nine minutes, Stuart twice powering over either side of a try by full-back Freddie Steward.
Marcus Smith’s conversions of those last two England scores helped seal only the second draw in 43 meetings between the two sides following a 26-26 all encounter at Twickenham in 1997.
“They came out firing, we added errors on errors like the first game against Argentina,” England captain Owen Farrell told Amazon Prime after his side started their Autumn Nations Series with a 30-29 defeat by the Pumas before thrashing Japan 52-13 last weekend.
Farrell, winning his 100th England cap, added: “We’re understanding each other a bit more. That got tested a bit today but we stuck together. That was brilliant.”
This was the first meeting between the teams since England’s 19-7 win in a 2019 World Cup semifinal in Japan that ended the All Blacks’ eight-year reign as world champions.
Defeat on Saturday would have condemned New Zealand to their worst calendar year since 1998, when they lost five matches.
The All Blacks have lost this year to Ireland (twice), South Africa and Argentina and coach Ian Foster was left frustrated by the way the All Blacks let slip a win in their final match of 2022 ahead of a 2023 featuring a World Cup in France.
“I am proud of the first 70 (minutes), we played the kind of rugby we have been searching for,” he said. “I think we are building strongly but we did not nail the last 10 minutes.
Foster had picked his strongest squad, the team resembling the side that thrashed Wales 55-23 in Cardiff a fortnight ago rather than the one that edged out Scotland 31-23 at Murrayfield last weekend.
New Zealand took just four minutes to open the scoring, with flanker Papali’i intercepting a pass from novice England scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet before sprinting in unopposed from 45 meters for a try between the posts converted by Jordie Barrett.
In Yokohama three years ago, it was England who had made the barnstorming start, but New Zealand soon had their second try as they silenced a capacity Twickenham crowd of over 81,000.
New Zealand lock Retallick, winning his 100th cap, won a line-out and Taylor rumbled over for another converted score.
Ioane touched down in the 17th minute but French referee Mathieu Raynal, after consulting the television match official, disallowed the try for an illegal neck roll challenge by the center.
Farrell eventually got England on the scoreboard with a penalty.
New Zealand, however, restored their 14-point lead through Jordie Barrett’s penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Fly-half Smith, taking over kicking duties following a knock to Farrell, landed a penalty to leave New Zealand 17-6 ahead.
New Zealand then struck in style, with full-back Beauden Barrett’s cross-kick gathered by wing Caleb Clarke, whose inside pass let slip Ioane to sprint three-quarters of the length of the field for a try in the left corner.
Jordie Barrett couldn’t convert but, with 10 minutes left, brother Beauden Barrett’s drop-goal appeared to have made the game safe.
Moments later, however, Beauden was sin-binned and England capitalized when Stuart was awarded a try after a lengthy TMO check.
A brilliant counter-attack and some slick passing sent Steward in at the corner before relentless forward pressure from England led to Stewart’s second try and Smith’s levelling conversion.
Smith then booted the ball dead on the last play, rather than chase a win, led to some jeers as an extraordinary match came to a tame end.
England finish their 2022 against world champions South Africa, fresh from a 63-21 rout of Italy on Saturday, at Twickenham next weekend.