The Kiwis left it to the last minute to secure their Rugby League World Cup semi-final win over England at Wembley today.
They had been trailing 18-14 with only seconds to go when Shaun Johnson finally found some space 20 metres out from England's goal-line. And, with a shimmy or two plus his trade-mark acceleration, he was over for the try that levelled the game.
To make matters even more satisfying for the Kiwi fans at Wembley, who were massively outnumbered by England's vociferous supporters, the try was handy to the goal-posts. Still, in those tense circumstances, the conversion was no given, especially as the English fans mustered a major chorus of disapproval in an effort to put Johnson off.
No such luck, though. He landed the goal and there was the 20-18 victory - and a direct pathway through to the final in Manchester next Saturday.
It could, however, so easily have been the end of the trail for Simon Mannering and his teammates. They had started the game - which was played in perfect conditions in front of 67,545 people - not so much with a flourish, but with enough skill and energy that it looked as if they would take control.
But no points came from their initial dominance. Instead, England began building their game, stretching the Kiwi defence and, after only 15 minutes, Sam Burgess put Sean O'Loughlin through for an unnervingly simple try. Kevin Sinfield converted and 10 minutes later the lead widened to eight points when he landed a penalty.
By half-time, however, the Kiwis had conjured up a semi-miraculous try (to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck) thanks to various bits of magic from others, especially from Dean Whare. And, when Johnson converted that and goaled a 40 metre penalty just before half-time, it was 8-8 at the break.
That score may have flattered the Kiwis because, despite the macho charges from their big men, and some enterprising play from the smaller guys, England was coping pretty well. Then, straight after the break, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was over for his second (unconverted) try, and Johnson followed up with a penalty.
So there the Kiwis were, leading 14-8 and giving the impression that they might now apply the pressure and pull away. But the pressure came from the home team with another try, this time from Kallum Watkins, and within ten minutes there was another from Sam Burgess. That had England out to an 18-14 lead and giving the impression that they would able to hang on.
But Shaun Johnson's last minute moves put paid to that. It was a desperately close call though.
This was a very strong performance by the English. There was plenty of muscle in the forwards, especially from the Burgess brothers and James Graham, and slickness in the backs too. The Kiwis did well to weather the storm. But they will need to do better next Saturday in the final against Australia, who beat Fiji 64-0 later in the day at Wembley in the second semi-final.
The Kiwis will hope that Manu Vatuvei and Frank Pritchard, who both missed this match, will be fit to be considered for selection next week.
The final of the RLWC kicks-off at 2.30pm on Saturday, November 30, at Old Trafford, Manchester.
The Kiwis have a recovery day tomorrow and travel to Manchester on Monday.
At Wembley Stadium, London:
Kiwis 20 (Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2, Shaun Johnson tries. Shaun Johnson 4 goals).
England 18 (Sean O’Loughlin, Kallum Watkins, Sam Burgess tries. Kevin Sinfield 3 goals).
Referee: Ben Cummins
Kiwis: Kevin Locke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dean Whare, Bryson Goodwin, Jason Nightingale, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Issac Luke, Jesse Bromwich, Simon Mannering (C), Sonny Bill Williams, Elijah Taylor. Interchange: Frank-Paul Nu’uausala, Sam Kasiano, Ben Matulino, Alex Glenn. Coach: Stephen Kearney.
England: Sam Tomkins, Josh Charnley, Kallum Watkins, Leroy Cudjoe, Ryan Hall, Gareth Widdop, Kevin Sinfield (C), James Graham, James Roby, Sam Burgess, Brett Ferres, Ben Westwood, Sean O’Loughlin. Interchange: Rob Burrow, George Burgess, Christopher Hill, Carl Ablett. Coach: Steve MacNamara.
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