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New Zealand beat England in thrilling first Test

Damian McKenzie
Damian McKenzie kicked two second-half penalties [Getty Images]

New Zealand (10) 16

Try: Reece, Savea Pen: McKenzie 2

England (10) 15

Try: Itoje, Feyi-Waboso Con: Smith Pen: Smith

New Zealand edged past England 16-15 in a thrilling opening Test in Dunedin to kickstart Scott Robertson's era as head coach with a win.

Damian McKenzie kicked two second-half penalties to overturn England's advantage after Immanuel Feyi-Waboso's try opened up a five-point lead for the visitors.

The sides were level at the interval as Sevu Reece and Ardie Savea scored either side of a Maro Itoje try converted by Marcus Smith, who missed three of his five kicks, including one close to the line of the posts.

England started brightly after the break and Feyi-Waboso's finish in the corner after some powerful work at close quarters gave Steve Borthwick's side belief of ending their 21-year-old wait for a win in New Zealand.

McKenzie, however, recovered from two missed conversion attempts in the first half to bang over six points and hand the All Blacks victory in their first game since last year's World Cup final defeat by South Africa.

The fly-half could have stretched the hosts' lead further late on but he was timed out of taking another penalty on the shot clock.

England will look to avenge their defeat in the final Test of the two-game series in Auckland next Saturday.

Missed chance for spirited England

England knew the task at hand when they arrived in New Zealand, where they have not tasted victory since the golden era in the summer before their only World Cup success in 2003.

Victory over Japan in their opening game of the summer tour would have given them and star fly-half Smith confidence of success, and, on this evidence, England can match it with the very best.

The blitz defence continues to develop under the tutelage of Felix Jones and caused New Zealand problems, although it was breached early on through Reece, who latched on to McKenzie’s accurate crossfield kick.

The visitors fired back with a well-prepared line-out as the All Blacks set up to defend a mall before England moved it quickly for Chandler Cunningham-South to power towards the line. The flanker was hauled down just short but Itoje picked up and smashed over from close range.

The ever-reliable Ben Earl was then caught out by the fleet-footed Stephen Perofeta - a surprise selection at full-back over two-time world player of the year Beauden Barrett - who fed Savea to cross out wide.

Smith missed a penalty to hand England an early lead after half-time, but he quickly responded with an excellent delayed pass to set Cunningham-South through in midfield before firing the pass wide for Feyi-Waboso to score his third try in five Tests.

Smith missed the conversion, which proved to be decisive, but England will be buoyed by their defensive performance to limit the All Blacks to 16 points at home, and their intent to attack in range of the tryline.

All Blacks prevail in new era

The All Blacks pitched up at their most southerly home with a new coach and a new captain at the start of a new era.

Head coach Robertson was appointed in November, replacing Ian Foster, who led the team to a single-point defeat by the Springboks in the 2023 World Cup final.

Robertson made Scott Barrett his captain but the lock would not lead his brother Beauden from the start in a big call at full-back.

The first objective for Robertson was to overcome an England side they had not beaten in their past two attempts after a thrilling 25-25 draw at Twickenham in 2022 and that famous England win at the 2019 World Cup semi-final.

However, the new coach was vindicated in his selection of Perofeta, who produced a moment of brilliance to expose Earl in the one bright moment of attack.

Victory was all that mattered but there is clearly work to do for the All Blacks to find their fluency as they embark on the next cycle leading to the 2027 World Cup.

Line-ups

New Zealand: Perofeta; Reece, Ioane, J Barrett, Tele'a; McKenzie, Perenara; De Groot, Taylor, Lomax, S Barrett (capt), Tuipulotu, Finau, Papali’i, Savea.

Replacements: Aumua, Tu’ungafasi, Newell, Vaa'i, Jacobson, Christie, Lienert-Brown, B Barrett.

England: Furbank; Feyi-Waboso, Slade, Lawrence, Freeman; M Smith, Mitchell; Marler, George (capt), Stuart; Itoje, Martin; Cunningham-South, Underhill, Earl.

Replacements: Dan, Baxter, Cole, Coles, Curry, Spencer, F Smith, Sleightholme.

Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)