England 16 New Zealand 17: England fall short again against Kiwis

England's Dan Sarginson is tackled by New Zealand's Thomas Leuluai during the Ladbrokes Four Nations match at the John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield. (Photo: PA)
England's Dan Sarginson is tackled by New Zealand's Thomas Leuluai during the Ladbrokes Four Nations match at the John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield. (Photo: PA)
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HOW MANY times have England been here?

The national side may have a new coach in Wayne Bennett but they were left with all the same old problems that have faced them for the past four decades.

They ran reigning champions New Zealand so close for much of this Ladbrokes Four Nations opener but, ultimately, fell short again.

Shaun Johnson’s 65th minute drop goal proved the difference on the scoreboard - the brilliant half-back’s superb short kicking game also played its part helping to force six drop-outs.

But it was a lack of clinical edge that killed England again, the inadequate centre Dan Sarginson spilling a simple pass late on that could have profited a try and further chances were wasted.

When Mike Cooper burst close, they were set to strike - but criminally had no one at dummy-half and Sam Burgess was forced into a no-hope pass.

Then Gareth Widdop’s drop goal attempt was badly wide, too, another offload from new captain Burgess went awry and time ran out.

It means England must beat Scotland next Saturday and Australia the following week but that still might not guarantee them a final place.

In many ways, in front of a sell-out 24,070, it was everything you would expect from a Test match - physical, intense, hard-fought and fiercely competitive.

Both packs enjoyed success making metres out of their own end, Chris Hill and Sam Burgess in particular leading England well in the opening quarter, with the back-rows Kevin Proctor and Tohu Harris similarly involved for the tourists.

England actually had the better of the early exchanges but, with ball in hand, could not quite take their limited chances.

Huddersfield winger Jermaine McGillvary was denied when England would surely have scored if St Helens full-back Jonny Lomax had used Kallum Watkins rather than a mis-pass while John Bateman was held up as he tried burrowing over.

That said, the New Zealand defence scrambled brilliantly at times and, given their steel, it was no surprise when James Graham could not resist the urge to stretch out when already tackled inches from the line, his effort rightly denied for double-movement.

All England could muster was two Gareth Widdop penalties - in the third and 11th minute - and it looked like being costly as their opponents soon grew into the contest.

On the back of a four successive penalties, the Kiwis also earned four drop-outs before half-time and it was credit to England’s own defence that they only trailed 6-4 at the break.

New Zealand had actually amounted 57 per cent possession but, after a Jordan Kahu penalty on 31 minutes, only managed one solitary try via Jordan Rapana four minutes later after some slick handling Dan Sarginson needlessly rushing out of the defensive line.

The second half got off to an awful start for England when Johnson intercepted Widdop’s pass in the 42nd minute and raced 70m to score, Kahu making it 12-4.

However, McGillvary got England straight back into it just six minutes later when a fine cut-out pass from the excellent second-row Elliott Whitehead saw him score for the second week running.

Widdop expertly converted from wide out but a brilliant offload from Manu Ma’u on halfway saw Rapana escape once more in the 56th minute.

The Canberra Raiders winger still had no right to score but he burst through Jonny Lomax’s attempted tackle to leave England further behind.

That said, Kahu’s simple conversion attempt hit a post so the hosts remained just six points adrift.

It meant they were level following Ryan Hall’s amazing try on the hour mark.

Widdop, under pressure, produced a stunning overhead flick pass that cut out two of his colleagues to find the Leeds Rhinos winger who produced a trademark strong finish for his 29th try in as many Tests.

Widdop held his nerve to level the game with another touchline conversion but it was not long before their rivals regained the lead once more via man-of-the-match Johnson.

And then England imploded.

England: Lomax; McGillvary, Watkins, Sarginson, Hall; Widdop, Gale; Hill, Hodgson, Graham, Bateman, Whitehead, S Burgess. Substitutes: T Burgess, G Burgess, Cooper, Clark.

New Zealand: Kahu; Nightingale, Kata, Kenny-Dowall, Rapana; Leuluai, Johnson; Bromwich, Luke, Waerea-Hargreaves, Proctor, Harris, Taumalolo. Substitutes: Brown, Taupau, Ma’u, Blair.

Referee: Robert Hicks (England)