Owen Farrell’s 100th England appearance looked set to fall flat, before England surged back in the final 10 minutes.
England scored three tries in a stunning final eight minutes to salvage an extraordinary draw after being outplayed by New Zealand for much of their Autumn Nations Series match at Twickenham.
The All Blacks scored two tries in the opening nine minutes, with Codie Taylor driving over at the back of a maul after Dalton Papali’i’s early intercept score. England 25-25 NZ Rugby at Twickenham
Any hope England had of replicating their rapid start in Yokohama evaporated inside the first eight minutes.
First, Papali’i raced in under the posts after flying out of the line at the back of a line-out to snaffle Jack van Poortvliet’s ponderous attempt to feed Farrell.
The 21-year-old England scrumhalf, making only his third Test start, caught a glimpse of himself on the big screen as the camera cut to him under the posts. It was a moment to test the mettle of the most seasoned veteran, never mind a novice.
England sunk deeper into a hole when Taylor squirmed over at the back of a rolling maul shortly after.
Fourteen points adrift after 10 minutes, Twickenham was deflated. Their team could have been defeated inside 20.
Van Poortvliet was again exposed as Ardie Savea collared him at the back of an understaffed ruck, forcing a turnover and, after a string of phases, Rieko Ioane dived over.
But as New Zealand lined up a simple conversion for a 21-0 lead, referee Mathieu Raynal spotted a neck-roll clearout by Ioane.
England were reprieved and headed to the break a fortunate 17-3 down after Farrell and Jordie Barrett traded kicks.
Luke Cowan-Dickie earned a penalty from the kick-off for the second half to allow Smith to cut the gap to 17-6, before the England fly-half put Tuilagi through a hole with a deftly delayed pass.
Tuilagi was stopped just short though, and four minutes later the All Blacks seemed to have quashed the comeback flat.
Off turnover ball, Mo’unga picked out Clarke with a precise punt. The wing cut inside, halting England’s defence and switched with Ioane to open up a clear canter to the corner for the centre.
But England, out-fought and out-thought for the majority of the game and 25-6 down on 70 minutes, came on strong as they emptied the bench and New Zealand ran out of gas.
England clung on to the break, and Manu Tuilagi was stopped just short with his side 17-6 down early in the second half.
When Rieko Ioane sprinted clear after a cunning cross kick from Richie Mo’unga to score a third try, it seemed the tourists were out of sight.
But England – inaccurate and undisciplined to that point – roared back into life in the final 10 minutes as replacement Will Stuart scrambled over, Freddie Steward scorched in out wide, and Stuart burrowed over again in the final minute.
Such was the belief that flowed through Twickenham as England rampaged forward against the fading All Blacks, Marcus Smith’s decision to boot the ball dead on the final play – rather than chase a victory that had seemed inconceivable just a quarter of an hour earlier – was greeted with some boos.
It was a surreal end to a strange match that marked both England captain Owen Farrell’s 100th appearance and the first meeting of the sides since the hosts’ superb semi-final victory at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
And it is unlikely to dispel the questions surrounding either side after patchy seasons, a year out from France 2023.