Four Nations: Kiwis hold on in thriller against England
DUNEDIN'S first league test in 86 years was worth the wait with the Kiwis securing their place in the Four Nations final with a thrilling win over England last night.
Play swung from end to end as both sides enjoyed periods of momentum and the flanks saw plenty of action, with all six tries going to the wing men - Jason Nightingale and his opposite Ryan Hall both posted doubles and Manu Vatuvei and Josh Charnley scored one apiece.
England showed a willingness to use the ball more than they had in their previous two games and, despite enjoying long periods of dominance, were unable to kick clear of a dogged New Zealand side.
The Kiwis won't know who they will meet in next weekend's final until after today's match between Australia and Samoa, but the expectation is it will be the Kangaroos.
"We're very pleased," Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney said. "The defensive effort of the group showed a great deal of spirit.
"We anticipated the English team throwing everything at us and they certainly did that. We feel fortunate we came out on the right side of the ledger."
The Kiwis struck gold after a dynamic opening set when Nightingale scored out to the right from a Shaun Johnson cross-field bomb before the halfback converted to give his side the ideal start.
England hit back swiftly when fullback Sam Tomkins sized up an overlap and fed left wing Hall to score in the corner almost untouched.
The visitors maintained the high tempo and controlled the rest of the opening quarter as the Kiwis suffered twin disruptions when separate head knocks forced both Nightingale (bleeding) and hooker Thomas Leuluai (concussion), who was a late inclusion to the starting side, from the park.
With the big England forwards laying the platform, halves Matty Smith and Gareth Widdop began testing the Kiwis defence with effective block plays allowing captain Sean O'Loughlin and prop James Graham to probe the edges.
When New Zealand finally got back into attacking range, their play looked ominous but a certain try went begging when Vatuvei spilled the ball in a tackle just short of the line.
Less than two minutes later, the big winger was caught in no-man's land when his opposite Charnley ran in England's second four-pointer to give them an 8-6 lead.
The Kiwis maintained their focus and patience - two qualities absent in last week's patchy win over Samoa - and found reward when centre Dean Whare stepped inside before finding a bandaged-up Nightingale to post his second try near the half-hour mark.
Errors continued to haunt the home side when Johnson's pass went behind Nightingale and into touch leaving the Kiwis to make do with a four-point lead at halftime.
"That's probably an improvement area for us, with the footy," Kearney said. "We can be better there so we'll look at that. We created a few opportunities but we just need to work on the execution."
England's swift and efficient ball movement caught the Kiwis out on both sides of the park following the resumption and they were fortunate to hang on when Hall fumbled while attempting to score.
Once more the Kiwis retained their composure and then punished the visitors on the back of their first repeat set of the game, when a shift out to the left gave Vatuvei their third try to make it 16-8.
Both sides began exploiting gaps through the middle with offloads creating second-phase but it was out wide where England prevailed, when Hall reached out to score his second to make it a two-point margin.
The closing quarter was full-throttle as both teams showed desperation in attack and defence, but poor kicking options and bad execution cruelled England's chances and the Kiwis held on for a heart-stopping victory.
Kiwis 16 (J Nightingale 2, M. Vatuvei tries; S. Johnson 2 gls)
England 14 (Ryan Hall 2, Josh Charnley tries; G. Widdop gl).