New Zealand remain on course to complete their perfect year after beating England, but they did it the hard way after the hosts fought back from 17-3 down.
With Twickenham rocking as England led 22-20 and scented a second successive upset win following last year’s 38-21 victory, the world champions regrouped and managed to send winger Julian Savea over for his second try.
Fly-half Dan Carter lasted only 26 minutes in his 100th Test before retiring hurt, replaced by Aaron Cruden, but by that time his side were seemingly in control after Savea and Kieran Read scored. England roared back with a Joe Launchbury try and superb goalkicking by Owen Farrell, but it was not enough.
“It was a hell of a Test match,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said.
Only seven of England’s starting team from last year’s stunning 38-21 victory survived, while 13 of the All Blacks were on duty, including Read, and he delivered a trademark offload after 90 seconds, leaving Savea an easy score.
A rare charge by prop Owen Franks blasted another hole in England’s defence and Read took advantage to stretch the lead to 17-3 after 17 minutes. England’s forwards hammered at the line with a series of rolling mauls and after the TV match official ruled out a score by No.8 Billy Vunipola, he then found in favour of the hosts to allow one for Launchbury moments later. Cruden marked his entry with a penalty after 27 minutes but it was a rare highlight for the visitors as England poured on the pressure, allowing Farrell’s boot to reduce the deficit to 20-16 at the break.
England maintained their tempo from the restart and, after Cruden hit a post with a penalty, Farrell slotted one to make it a one-point game with 25 minutes remaining. Farrell then kicked another penalty to put them ahead after an hour.
Visiting captain McCaw drew his players around him for a tactical huddle and it seemed to work as great work by Ma’a Nonu sent Savea over for his second try.
Cruden converted then added another penalty to keep his side on course for a clean sweep of 14 wins from 14 games in 2013, which they can complete by beating Ireland in Dublin next week.