By John Davidson, (RLP RLWC Correspondent) Date: 21/11/13
New Zealand have advanced to the World Cup final with a thrilling final minute 20-18 win over a shattered England.
Wembley was treated to an amazing game. England were really up for this match and took it to the champions, with Gareth Widdop in particular justifying his selection with a great performance.
Sam Burgess and Kevin Sinfield were also huge for England, though it was the captain who would be the ultimate villain.
Shaun Johnson was the hero and the recipient of Sinfield’s folly in the last minute of the game. With England ahead 18-14, the five-eighth rushed off the line to pressure Johnson. But the fleet-footed Kiwi broke the tackle, stepped another defender and crossed to tie the scores at 18-18. With no time left he then stepped up to win the match with a pressured conversion.
New Zealand had won it and English hearts were broken.
This was a game that England could, and probably should, have won. They dominated the first half, had more possession and had several chances to finish the Kiwis that they did not take.
Ryan Hall fell over on one break and then dropped an intercept when he could have been away, though still would have had 80-odd metres to scarper. Ben Westwood also knocked on as he was just about to plant the ball for a four-pointer.
With such a close loss, you also reflect on the key moments, like when Sinfield missed what would normally be a routine conversion at the 58 minute mark.
New Zealand just hung in there and hung in there, refusing to go away.
England started the match well, with Josh Charnley making several good breaks on the Kiwi’s left edge. The Poms opened the scoring after 15 minutes when James Graham put Sam Burgess through the line, who then expertly offloaded to Sean O’Loughlin for a try.
On 22 minutes a great grubber from James Roby earned England a dropout, and Burgess was then through again but this time O’Loughlin couldn’t hold the pass. Sinfield could convert a penalty though and the scores went to 8-0.
Then the Kiwis came up with a bit of magic. The ball ping-ponging left to right after a bomb, Dean Whare managed to flick it back in while in mid-air to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who crossed. Miraculous stuff.
England upped their tempo in response but couldn’t find a way through. A penalty goal to New Zealand just before half-time had the game evenly balance at 8-8 at the break.
The Kiwis came out of the sheds menacingly. The ball went through the hands to Tuivasa-Sheck for his double, in what seemed a fairly soft try. The conversion was missed but New Zealand was ahead 12-8. The score went to 14-8 after another penalty to the Kiwis.
England hit back on 57 minutes. Sinfield injected himself brilliantly, throwing a cut-out pass to a flying Kallum Watkins who ran a great angle to score. Sinfield surprisingly couldn’t convert but the Poms were now just two points behind.
Errors started to creep into New Zealand’s game. Isaac Luke made a break but the ball was knocked on. Tuivas-Sheck passed the ball to no-one and the Kiwis were struggling to hold on to it.
England started to build pressure on New Zealand’s line, off a Widdop grubber, and then Sinfield popped up with another try-assist. He held up the ball for Burgess to batter off and put the home team in front.
With 12 minutes to go, New Zealand looked shell-shocked and then kicked out on the full from the re-start.
Two minutes later Ben Westwood had the chance to put the game away, but the ball somehow slipped from his grasp just as he was planting it for a try.
Ryan Hall was almost away with an intercept on his line three minutes later, but he couldn’t hang on to the ball. These were two key momentum shifters.
New Zealand were still in it.
New Zealand were camped in England’s half but then Kevin Locke threw a terrible pass to Jason Nightingale out. They then put up a bomb on England’s but Sonny Bill Williams couldn’t bring it down.
It seemed as though England were home.
But with a minute to go, George Burgess was pinged for a high tackle on Williams.
With a set of six on England’s line, Sinfield rushed up to close down Johnson and took advantage, to fly in to win it. And that was that.
New Zealand survive and England were done. So close but so far for the Poms. For the Kiwis, a chance to win back-to-back World Cups is now within their reach.
England 18, Tries: O’Loughlin, Burgess, Watkins, Goals: Sinfield (3).
New Zealand 20, Tries: Johnson, Tuivasa-Sheck (2), Goals: Johnson (4).