The All Blacks pulled off a remarkable second half turnaround to down England 28-27 in the second Test in Dunedin on Saturday and wrap up the series with a game to spare.
The one-point margin was not a clear indication of the difference between the two teams after the All Blacks had raced to a 28-13 lead before letting England in for two late tries.
After a woeful first half by the New Zealand team, in which they trailed 6-10 by half time, they shifted up several gears in the second session.
They needed a colossal improvement after their untidy first Test win and when it came England had no answer.
The All Blacks took control up front for the first time in the series and their confidence visibly grew as they ran in three tries before England’s late response.
Ben Smith was the All Blacks’ “everywhere man”. In the first half when everything was going wrong he was always a danger and in the second half he scored the first try and featured in the other two.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said his half-time message was straight to the point.
“There wasn’t a lot of carry-on. It was nice and calm,” he said.
“It was about believing in what we were doing and eventually, if we stuck with it, it would come right. And it did.”
However, England coach Stuart Lancaster was dejected to see the game slip away after the tourists’ convincing start.
“In the third quarter, New Zealand played some exceptional rugby. Their best stuff — turnover ball and a couple of loose kicks that put us under pressure,” he said.
“But ultimately we’re disappointed that we’ve come away with nothing after we worked so hard to put ourselves in a position (to win) after the first half.”
The close-marking England side had the game in the palm of their hand in the first 40 minutes, and bolstered by the arrival of their senior cavalry, they forced the world champions into another stumbling performance.
The game took on a familiar feel as the All Blacks attempted to attack, turned the ball over and England kicked them deep into defensive territory.
– Squandered chances –
From there, England challenged the All Blacks through the middle as they fought to turn around the gut-wrenching 20-15 loss of a week ago in the first Test.
They struck early as the All Blacks, showing signs of being over-eager, coughed up penalties with alarming regularity.
Owen Farrell slotted a three-pointer and then converted Marlon Yarde’s try when the left wing came off his line to break through a McCaw tackle for a try to lead 10-0 after seven minutes.
The All Blacks, meanwhile, squandered try-scoring chances with a mixture of dropped passes and poor option-taking, leaving Aaron Cruden to slot two penalties to narrow the gap to four points at the break.
But the floodgates opened early in the second half with Cruden setting big winger Julian Savea away down the left flank with Smith on hand to finish off the move.
Cruden’s conversion had the All Blacks in front for the first time at 13-10 before Farrell equalised with another penalty for England.
In the following 15 minutes the game belonged to the All Blacks as they attacked England from all angles and drove home their new found dominance.
Savea crashed over down the left side and Ma’a Nonu scored in the right corner while Cruden and replacement Beauden Barrett slotted the goals.
England came back into the game with tries by Mike Brown and Chris Ashton which were both converted by Farrell on the stroke of full time.