International Series 2015: England 2-9 New Zealand

By Paul FletcherBBC Sport at the Olympic Stadium
Highlights: England 2-9 New Zealand
International Series 2015: Second Test
England: (2) 2
Goal: Widdop
New Zealand: (2) 9
Try: Kenny-Dowall Goal: Luke Drop-goal: Kahu

New Zealand deservedly defeated an under-par England at the Olympic Stadium to level the three-Test series and set up a thrilling decider at Wigan next Saturday.

England took an early 2-0 lead in front of 44,393 in London, but failed to add to that tally as the world's top ranked team edged what was for large periods an attritional, defence-dominated match.

The match was tied 2-2 at the break, but Shaun Kenny-Dowall touched down in the corner shortly after the restart.

And after the video referee had ruled out a try for both teams, Jordan Kahu slotted up a decisive late drop-goal to seal victory for his team.

Rough and tumble

BBC pundit Jon Wilkin said the teams were "toothless in attack" during an opening 40 minutes that showcased some great defence but arguably a lack of attacking guile. Fellow pundit Brian Noble said it was gorilla v gorilla.

Gareth Widdop kicked an early penalty for England and Isaac Luke did likewise for his team in what were the only points of the opening 40 minutes.

England had certainly improved in defence from last week's terrible start in Hull that saw them fall 10-0 down and they defended their line with skill, structure and determination.

But they were assisted by some poor Kiwi kicking from inexperienced half-back pairing of Peta Hiku and Kodi Nikorima, who wasted several promising positions.

In wet conditions, it was largely one-out football and an opening half was almost a throwback to an earlier era rather than a reflection of the fast and athletic modern game.

When the hooter sounded at the break it was to appreciative applause by a crowd waiting for more.

Big call from the video ref

The visiting side had 55% of the territory in the opening half and continued to dominate after the break, with Kenny-Dowall touching down in the right corner after his team finally started to stretch the England line.

The Kiwis forced numerous repeat sets - 14 in total in the match - while their opponents seemed unable to build any pressure.

Steve McNamara's men often came up with a pressure-reliving error and lacked the incisive cutting edge that saw them score 26 points last week.

However, there was one highly-debated moment late in the second half.

Chris Graham's effort was disallowed
Graham's late effort was disallowed by the video referee

England thought they had scored a vital try under the sticks through James Graham after he touched down Josh Hodgson's grubber kick.

The players had all set up for the conversion, which would have levelled the scores at 8-8, as video referees Phil Bentham and James Child reviewed the action several times.

Eventually they ruled out the try, evidently ruling that the Canterbury Bulldogs prop had not grounded the ball properly. There were boos all around the stadium but BBC pundit Jonathan Davies said it was the right call.

The Kiwis also had a score ruled out when the increasingly impressive Nikorima - who was brought into the side as a late change from coach Stephen Kearney's original selection, replacing Tuimoala Lolohea - lost control of the ball short of the line.

But when Tahu's drop-goal sealed the win it was nothing less than his team deserved.

London Calling

It was the first rugby league match at the Olympic Stadium and there was a strange atmosphere inside it, almost as though many here were new to the game and waiting for something to happen.

There were plenty of union shirts around the ground and Saturday was a chance to win over some converts, but it was hardly the sort of England performance to inspire a new generation.

That said, the Rugby Football League worked really hard to promote this fixture, with coach Steve McNamara and prop Tom Burgess repeatedly discussing how excited they were about playing there during numerous interviews in the week.

England v New Zealand
The Olympic Stadium has hosted athletics and rugby union since opening in 2012

They talked about the "iconic value" and the "hallowed turf" where legends were made during the 2012 Olympics.

The weather undoubtedly had an impact on the nearby Fan Park, where there was live entertainment, face painters, games to play, the Super League trophy and numerous players - but also a slightly underwhelming feeling until the rain finally relented an hour before kick-off.

Nonetheless, after waiting two years for the return of international rugby league in England after the 2013 World Cup, it does seem as though the RFL is trying to build on what legacy remains from back then and ride on the back of the recent union tournament.

The final fixture of this three-match series is a sell out at Wigan. The RFL must be hoping that the weather is kinder next Saturday - and that England offer a lot more entertainment.

What's next?

The third and final Test at Wigan next Saturday (kick-off 13:00 GMT). Victory for England will clinch their first series win since 2007.

You can watch the match live on BBC One from 12:45, listen on BBC Radio 5 live and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website.


England: Hardaker, J Burgess, Bateman, Watkins, Hall, Widdop, Williams, Graham, Hodgson, Hill, Whitehead, Farrell, O'Loughlin.

Replacements: Roby, T. Burgess, Cooper, Ferres.

New Zealand: Tuivasa-Sheck, Nightingale, Kahu, Whare, S. Kenny-Dowall, Hiku, Nikorima, Bromwich, Luke, Moa, Proctor, Harris, Blair.

Replacements: Brown, Taupau, Matulino, Glenn.

Referee: Gerard Sutton (Australia)

Attendance: 44,393

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