By John Davidson. Date: 8/11/14
England will be preying for a Samoa win over Australia after New Zealand secured a great two-point victory in Dunedin.
The European side threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Kiwis but couldn’t get the vital result it needed to ensure their place in the Four Nations final. If Samoa can upset the Kangaroos then England will advance to the decider.
But it was heart-breaking for the English again, after 2013’s World Cup last-second semi-final loss, to came up short against New Zealand in another very even contest. It was also a match of contrasting fortunes for Ryan Hall.
The match started at a rapid pace.
New Zealand drew first blood just two minutes into the game. A bomb went up and Jason Nightengale leaped brilliantly over Hall to regather the ball to score.
But it took England only four minutes to hit back. Sam Tomkins and Gareth Widdop combined and quick passing found Hall to motor over in the corner and make amends for his earlier fumble.
With parity restored it remained a fast and fluent start from both sides. Both teams were chancing their arms and running with purpose. Daryl Clark out of dummy half was causing plenty of problems for New Zealand. But it was Kiwi winger Manu Vatuvei who almost got the next score, the big unit just forced with the ball out on 23 minutes.
Peta Hika found Vatuvei out wide with a cutout pass but he lost the ball in great defence from Josh Charnley and Kallum Watkins.
Two minutes later and England winger Charnley went from strong defence to special attack. Vatuvei was caught out of position in defence and Charnley sped around him to score.
England went in front by two points.
It was a frenetic 10 minutes and Nightengale topped it off with his second try at the 29-minute mark, jagging New Zealand the lead again.
A lovely jink and pass from Dean Whare put his winger in acres of space to score easily.
The conversion from Shaun Johnson put the Kiwis four points back in front.
New Zealand should have gone further in front just before half-time. Johnson drew the defender beautifully close to the line but his pass to Nightengale was poor and the move broke down.
Half-time came as a relief to both teams thanks to the intensity that this game was being played. It was an Origin-like contest, such was the pace and power being dished up in Dunedin.
Johnson’s accurate kicking was largely proving the only difference between two pumped up teams.
In the second half England came out firing and should have taken the lead just two minutes in. The Poms went from one wing to another and Hall should have scored but somehow lost the ball as he planted it down. It was a costly error.
New Zealand made him pay three minutes later. After a second-man play Kieran Foran found Simon Mannering who put Vatuvei over.
The Kiwi lead stretched to eight.
Of course it was Hall – it had to be – who hit back for England. Getting possession after a bomb, England swung the ball left with speed and this time Hall made no mistake in the in-goal area. It was see-sawing stuff for the giant Leeds winger.
A fantastic sideline conversion from Widdop cut the lead to two points.
New Zealand had 22 minutes to hold on.
The action did not stop though, both teams almost scoring on numerous occasions. As the minutes ticked away England was getting nervous. Last-ditch tackles kept being thrown about.
There was a lot of push and shove on 72 minutes. Kieran Foran nailed Sam Tomkins in a great tackle but held on too long to give a penalty. Tomkins pushed Foran in the head in response with the Manly half angrily retaliating. Everyone rushed in with tempers raised but normalcy soon resumed.
England kept pressing but their hopes were dashed on 77 minutes. Watkins got around Vatuvei but just stepped in touch as he offloaded to Charnley. New Zealand had the ball with two minutes and 30 seconds left.
But England was given one last chance, one final shot for a winner. Johnson grubbered straight to Widdop and he raced away 30 metres. England was on the march and threw the ball around desperately.
James Graham hoisted a bomb up and Vatuvei spilled it, giving England the ball back with eight seconds left. England took the tap and the Kiwis rushed forward, but Graham dropped the ball and the Kiwis were finally home.
They are into the Four Nations final after seeing off Australia, Samoa and England. It’s a nervous 24 hour wait for the Lions though, who will be hoping Samoa do them a favour and knock out the Kangaroos to keep their tournament hopes alive.
New Zealand (12) 16 Tries: Nightingale (2), Vatuvei Goals: Johnson (2)
England (8) 14 Tries: Hall (2), Charnley Goals: Widdop