England fell to a heartbreaking 16-14 defeat to New Zealand this morning at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
And now their chances of reaching the Four Nations final in Wellington next week rest on Samoa defeating Australia tomorrow by a margin of less than eight points.
It was a cruel defeat for England, with two Gareth Widdop conversions hitting the post and Ryan Hall dropping the ball as he tries to place it down for a try.
The game began superbly for the Kiwis, when winger Jason Nightingale scored a try from man of the match Shaun Johnson’s bomb to the corner in the second minute, with Johnson adding the goal.
But it didn’t take England long to reply, when Hall touched down in the corner from a superb Dan Sarginson pass, although Widdop’s attempt to convert was his first to hit the post.
And when England took the lead after 25 minutes with a try in the corner from Josh Charnley, created by a superb pass from captain Sean O’Loughlin, Widdop hit the post again with his conversion attempt.
The Kiwis took the lead again, however, when they ran the ball on the last tackle and Dean Whare delivered a scoring pass for Nightingale’s second try, with Johnson converting from the touchline.
Hall appeared to scored early in the second half, but video replays showed that he had dropped the ball. And the game seemed to be slipping away from England when Manu Vatuvei scored in the corner early in the second half, but Johnson missed his conversion this time, and the margin was now eight points.
But England, whose attack had looked sharp throughout, fought back strongly, and Hall scored after 55 minutes after the Kiwis had been unable to handle a Matty Smith bomb, with Sarginson again delivering a superb scoring pass. This time Widdop made no mistake with the conversion to bring the margin back to two points.
England threw everything at the Kiwis in the closing minutes, and decided to run a penalty that was awarded virtually on the final whistle, but they couldn’t get over the line, and now have to wait to see whether Samoa can do them a favour by narrowly beating Australia tomorrow.
A full report, analysis and photographs from this game will feature in Monday’s edition of Rugby League Express.