The Twickenham crowd did not know whether to dance or cry. Should they join Manu Tuilagi in waving their arms to Freed from Desire, or hold heads in hands with Henry Slade? There were 71 minutes of frustration, nine minutes of elation and one final second of despair.
After one of the worst performances of Eddie Jones’s tenure, England pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in Twickenham history. Three tries in a matter of minutes changed the mood from a funeral to a festival, with Will Stuart emerging as the unlikely hero.
The prop’s quickfire tries had the All Blacks on the ropes. New Zealand were down to 14-men in the final play and England had a chance to make history, but Marcus Smith kicked out the ball to settle for a draw. There was a curdling combination of booing and applause. Nobody quite knew what to make of it.
Will Stuart’s first two tries for England inspired his side to a thrilling comeback at Twickenham
Eddie Jones’ side snatched a draw from jaws of defeat against New Zealand on Saturday
From an England perspective, this was rugby’s equivalent to Scrapheap Challenge. The first 70 minutes were nothing short of a car crash. They looked like a team that had been run over by New Zealand’s team bus on their way in, yet they went on to complete a remarkable salvage operation.
Why did they wait so long? Why did they only break out of their straitjacket when the victory was out of reach? The closing exchanges, when Marcus Smith had venom flowing through his veins, were a blueprint of what England can do when they are allowed to cut loose.
Midway through the second half, frustrated corners of the crowd were making jokes about Warren Gatland stepping from the Amazon TV box to the England coaching box. They were ruing errors and ill-discipline from the moment England conceded their first penalty after 40 seconds.
‘I’ll get him!’ shouted Ellis Genge, before flying out of the line in an offside position to land a shot on Sam Whitelock. They had branded this as ‘big boy rugby’ and it was a baptism of fire for the young scrum half Jack van Poortvliet. His slow pass from the tail of the lineout was intercepted by flanker Dalton Papali’i, who charged clear to score a gift of a try.
Dalton Papalii scored New Zealand’s first try of the game as they immediately seized control
England’s stock was crashing faster than cryptocurrency. Lining up against Tyrel Lomax, blessed with a 10kg weight advantage, Genge was penalised for hinging at the scrum. Brodie Retallick claimed the lineout and the visiting pack piled into push over Codie Taylor for a second try inside nine minutes.
All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith was loving life, goading the hosts for giving them ‘easy outs’ whenever the hosts got the ball. Mathieu Raynal awarded penalty after penalty against the English forwards, with Owen Farrell, on the day of his 100th cap, losing his cool with the officials throughout.
Jones admitted that his side were pulverised in the first half, lucky not to be further behind after Rieko Ioane and Jordie Barrett both blew gold-plated opportunities to score. England blew their chances for so long. Jonny Hill fumbled the ball, they missed kicks for touch and were turned over at the maul and the breakdown. All England had to show from the first half was three points from the boot of Farrell.
‘Is there anything we can do better?’ Farrell asked Mathieu Raynal as they walked down the tunnel for half-time, having kicked his team’s only points of the half. The French referee resisted the opportunity to make a cheap gag.
Farrell received treatment on his ankle during the break and handed over the kicking duties to Marcus Smith, who scored the first points of the second half. There was a flash of tempo and physicality when Manu Tuilagi surged into the All Blacks’ red zone but the play ended with a penalty against Maro Itoje for latching.
It looked like Rieko Ioane had secured the win as he raced away for New Zealand’s third try
Ioane’s try gave England a huge up-hill task to get anything out of the game with New Zealand
The English frustration was there for all to see. Smith usually expresses himself with goosesteps and hitchkicks but at one stage he was luring his opposite men into petulant off the ball scuffles.
And after 50 minutes, England were undone by a masterpiece. Sam Simmonds had the ball dislodged from his grasp and the tourists attacked from deep inside their own half. Beauden Barrett sent a kick pass to Caleb Clarke, who switched the ball to Ioane to charge clear to score from one end of Twickenham to the other. It was like watching the All Blacks of old.
Except these are not the All Blacks of old. They are not the ruthless men in black whose jerseys were as powerful as a coat of armour. The new kids like Smith, Freddie Steward, Dave Ribbans and Will Stuart were not buying into the stories told by their elders.
With the clock ticking down, Jones unloaded his bench and England played to their instincts. Someone had sprinkled some magic dust. After a Beauden Barrett drop goal, Steward stole the restart and Smith lifted his head up to ran between two forwards. Beauden Barrett held onto him in the tackle, earning a yellow card, and Stuart just about managed to ground the ball.
With a one-man advantage, England cut loose, while the All Blacks delivered a masterclass in how not to close out a game. England broke out of their tactical straitjacket, running the ball from their own half, with Ribbans pulling off a spectacular offload before Steward scored down the right wing.
And they kept coming, defying the odds. Henry Slade stepped in as a third receiver, Mako Vunipola ran sharp lines and Stuart muscled his way over for to level the scores.
There was bedlam and beer showers. Twickenham was on its feet, baying for blood, buzzing with belief, with an electric charge running through their legs. Their had been emotions thrown around like a Twickenham tumble dryer and they wanted the win. Smith had the chance to run the ball out of his 22 one last time, but suddenly that venom deserted him and he booted the ball into the stands for a bittersweet draw.
Freddie Steward gave England fans hope of an incredible late comeback as he crossed the line
England’s draw follows a defeat to Argentina and a victory against Japan last week