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Rugby | International Rugby

NZ withstand fightback to down England



New Zealand set about their grand slam tour in customary fashion when they got on top of England early and then held on well in the face of a stirring home fightback to secure a 26-16 victory on Saturday.

England had promised a defensive wall to stem the flow of tries from the Tri-Nations champions but were full of holes from the start and conceded early scores to Hosea Gear and Kieran Read.

The All Blacks led 17-3 at halftime but England hit back with a Dylan Hartley try and the goalkicking of Toby Flood to get back to 23-16.

However, New Zealand quickly stretched the lead again with a Dan Carter penalty then defended superbly in a rousing finale to secure their ninth successive victory over England and set them up for another clean sweep of wins over the home unions.

"Coming to Twickenham is never easy and though there are a few areas we can improve on we are happy to have won the game," New Zealand coach Graham Henry told reporters.

Captain Richie McCaw added: "The win was really important, the guys were hurting after last week (when they lost to Australia)

"We knew we were in for a big challenge and that's how it turned out, we had to defend pretty hard at the end and dig deep."

England manager Martin Johnson rued the slow start that allowed the visitors to race into a 14-0 lead.

"We were rusty, didn't start well and 14-0 down is not a great place to be," he said.

"But we did well to give ourselves a shot, there was good tempo, lots of chances created. "We gave them too much respect at times. I thought when we got tempo we looked pretty good but you don't get a second chance with these guys.

"It's our first game in a big year. Hopefully we'll knock the rust off in time for next week."

England went into the game with their confidence buoyed by beating Australia in Sydney in June but the five-month hiatus left them looking disorganised in the face of an All Black team fresh from regular Tri-Nations outings and last week's defeat by Australia in Hong Kong.

EARLY BLOWS

After 17 minutes New Zealand's aggressive running paid off when winger Gear touched down in the corner after a defence-splitting offload by Sonny Bill Williams.

The England defence was breached again four minutes later when number eight Read barrelled through and under three tacklers.

England, with only Lewis Moody and Mark Cueto surviving from the 15 beaten 19-6 by the All Blacks a year ago, had only a Flood penalty to show for their limited efforts as the only time they did cross the line at the end of the half fullback Ben Foden was held up.

After a penalty apiece after the break, England saw a chink of light as winger Chris Ashton reacted quickly to a loose ball and replacement hooker Hartley charged through to score.

With Flood converting then landing a penalty England closed to within seven points with 15 minutes remaining.

Flyhalf Carter stretched it to 10 with his fourth penalty but New Zealand then had back rower Jerome Kaino sin-binned for the last nine minutes to set up a rousing finale.

A thunderous tackle by Isaia Toeava prevented Shontayne Hape from scoring in the corner but it is not by luck that New Zealand have not lost a November international against the home nations since England beat them at Twickenham eight years ago.

"Sweet Chariot" rang around Twickenham as most of the 82,000 crowd urged the home side on but New Zealand defended with real aggression.

With the first win secured, New Zealand now face Scotland, Ireland and Wales while England face Australia next week followed by games against Samoa and South Africa.

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