England have overcome an early 10-point deficit to defeat New Zealand 26-12 in the first test at Hull’s KC Stadium.
After fighting back to level the scores by half-time, England held the Kiwis scoreless in the second stanza, and clinched a four-tries-to-two win with a physical and clinical performance against the world’s #1 side.
New Zealand were plagued by penalties and errors after the break, and England took full toll, to the delight of the 23,256-strong crowd.
The Kiwis took just six minutes to post the first try, Jason Nightingale worming his way into space, before five-eighth Peta Hiku tipped the ball on for Tohu Harris, who charged through the defensive line on the angle and scored.
Issac Luke’s conversion attempt was waved away.
Nightingale and HIku were prominent again, as the visitors extended their lead to 10-0 after 16 minutes, making big inroads, before Roger Tuivasa-Sheck drew England captain Sean O’Loughlin to send Sam Moa over for his second test try.
Moa’s try jolted the hosts into action, however, and they landed on the scoreboard just before the quarter-mark, when Elliot Whitehead’s offload bounced fortuitously off Zak Hardaker’s knee, allowing Canberra Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson to pick up the loose ball and dot down for England’s opening score.
Gareth Widdop’s conversion cut the deficit to four points, but Kiwis co-captain Luke pushed the score-line out to 12-6 with 15 minutes of the half remaining, after England counterpart O’Loughlin was pinged for holding down in the tackle.
Meanwhile, Hodgson was forced off with a shin injury, which brought James Roby into the action from the bench and the veteran rake would have a monumental impact on the contest.
Centre Jordan Kahu was denied a try on test debut in the 32nd minute, courtesy of a contentious obstruction call against Harris, and England made the most of the let-off, as halfback George Williams served up a pass for barnstorming interchange forward Brett Ferres, who charged in to score behind the posts.
Widdop’s simple conversion made the halftime score 12-all.
England, ramping up their intensity after the resumption, hit the lead for the first time in the 46th minute, via a Widdop penalty goal. Poor discipline and execution by New Zealand repeatedly invited England deep into Kiwis territory.
The home side dominated possession and field position, but outstanding goal-line defence kept the them at bay, until Ferres burrowed his way over for a second try under the posts, giving England a handy eight-point buffer with 20 minutes left.
The Kiwis finally gained a bit of traction and pressed England’s defence with some repeat sets, but with fatigue evidently playing a factor, their forays into the opposition half failed to produce any points.
Skipper O’Loughlin put the result to bed with three minutes on the clock, after England received back-to-back possessions, busting the tackles of Adam Blair and Kevin Proctor to cross for the clincher.
Widdop slotted his fifth goal to put the match out of reach at 26-12.
Two-try hero Brett Ferres claimed man-of-the-match honours, a fitting tribute for an England victory built on a magnificent forward-pack display.
The convincing loss – and in particular the second-half shutout – leaves coach Stephen Kearney and his Kiwis outfit with plenty of work to do, as the series moves on to London for the second test next Saturday.
England 26 (Brett Ferres 2, Josh Hodgson & Sean O’Loughlin tries; Gareth Widdop 5 goals) NZ Kiwis 12 (Tohu Harris & Sam Moa tries; Issac Luke 2 goals); HT: 12-12