England Women came back from 13-3 down to defeat world champions New Zealand 16-13 in the first of three internationals against the Black Ferns.
Vice-captain Sarah Hunter and wing Kat Merchant scored second-half tries, while Katy McLean and Emily Scarratt each kicked a penalty at Esher.
Head coach Gary Street said: "It was great to get the win to start the series off but we certainly made it hard work for ourselves."
The sides meet again on Tuesday.
The win was a boost for the home side after the loss of influential full-back Danielle Waterman early on, with Worcester team-mate Jo Watmore coming on for her second cap in her place.
"We missed a lot of chances - we certainly should have had more points on the board in the first half," Street added.
"Throughout the match we showed a lot of flexibility with several players having to play out of position but their knowledge and skill base, as well as character, shone through."
The victory follows England's 23-13 victory over France in the first of their four autumn internationals.
England team: Danielle Waterman (Worcester), Katherine Merchant (Worcester), Emily Scarratt (Lichfield), Alice Richardson (Richmond), Michaela Staniford (Wasps); Katy McLean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks - capt), Natasha Hunt (Lichfield); Rochelle Clark (Worcester), Victoria Fleetwood (Lichfield), Laura Keates (Worcester), Tamara Taylor (Lichfield), Rowena Burnfield (Richmond), Heather Fisher (Worcester), Marlie Packer (Bristol), Sarah Hunter (Lichfield - vice-captain).
Replacements: Emma Croker (Richmond, for Fleetwood, 54), Rosemarie Crowley (Lichfield, for Keates, 52), Sophie Hemming (Bristol, for Clark, 52), Emily Braund (Lichfield, for Merchant, 74)), Alexandra Matthews (Richmond- for Packer, 52)), Georgina Gulliver (Lichfield, for Hunt, 40), Francesca Matthews (Richmond, for Hunt, 52), Joanne Watmore (Worcester, for Waterman, 8).
New Zealand: Selica Winiata, Halie Hurring, Claire Richardson, Kelly Brazier, Shakira Baker, Kendra Cocksedge, Emma Jensen; Ruth McKay, Fiao'o Faamausili (capt), Kathleen Wilton, Eloise Blackwell, Rawinia Everitt, Aroha Savage, Justine Lavea, Casey Robertson.
Replacements: Karina Stowers, Stephanie TeOhaere-Fox, Aleisha Nelson, Jackie Patea, Lydia Crossman, Zoey Berry, Victoria Nafatali, Hazel Tubic.