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England were favourites against a New Zealand side which contained a number of debutants as the two sides played an expansionist test at the Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. It was the first full test match in the USA as preparations got underway for the 2025 World Cup.

 

Wayne Bennett was without a few first choice players but still named a very strong side including five players from the NRL, but he also had a couple of players making their England debuts.

 

The Kiwis opened the scoring on nine minutes, after pressuring the England line, when Kodi Nikorima broke down the right wing before passing inside to Esan Marsters to go the last fifteen metres unopposed.  Jamayne Isaako added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.

 

England were getting their chances but some clumsy handling saw them lose momentum.

 

Soon after the twentieth minute drinks break an impressive Sam Burgess went over the line but was held up on his back. On twenty-four Tom Burgess fended off a tackler and lunged for the line but the video referee ruled out the try, deciding that Burgess has lost the ball in the act of scoring.

 

On twenty-eight Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was on hand to take an Isaac Luke pass to go over under the sticks. Isaako added the conversion for 12-0 to New Zealand.

 

England finally got on the score sheet on thirty-three after a length of the field move over the five tackles when Ryan Hall flew in at the corner to ground one-handed off a miss out pass from Jake Connor. Gareth Widdop added the conversion and England trailed by six.

 

On thirty-five Luke kicked a superb 40-20 but the England defence held firm and denied the Kiwis a third try before the interval.

 

Rather than concede, England added to their own tally on thirty-nine when Elliott Whitehead hit the New Zealand line at speed to take a Connor pass and bust through to drag two defenders over the line with him to ground. Widdop was unable to add the extras and England went into the interval trailing by two points in what had become a great contest with plenty of expansive rugby on display.

 

When Luke deliberately stamped on Jon Bateman’s hand in the tackle he was warned by referee Thaler but allowed to stay on the field. Widdop kicked the resulting penalty to level the scores.

 

England hit the front on fifty-three when Tommy Makinson picked up a Widdop grubber and drew the full-back before passing inside to Whitehead to cross for his second of the night. Widdop added the goal to put his side six points ahead.

 

When New Zealand put the kick-off out on the full, Widdop elected to kick the penalty from half way and extended the England lead.

 

On fifty-nine Jake Connor scored a superb try going forty metres down the middle of the field and throwing an outrageous dummy to the New Zealand full back before going over without a hand laid upon him. Widdop added the conversion and England had scored twenty-six unanswered points and led by fourteen.

 

Tommy Makinson scored a debut try on sixty-four after a Whitehead interception saw him make forty metres before finding the Saints star in support to go over under the sticks. Widdop was again accurate with the boot for 32-12.

 

On sixty-nine Watene-Zelezniak got his second of the game, taking a Luke pass, to reduce the arrears with Isaako adding the extras for 18-32.

 

As tiredness took its toll England ran down the clock with kicks to touch and with seconds left Bateman went from dummy half to score from a metre out to crown the England victory. James Graham took the conversion but pushed the kick wide leaving England with a 36-18 victory.

 

After going behind early on, England soon took hold of the game and dominated from the half hour mark to cruise to what was eventually an easy victory. There was plenty to admire, especially from some of the debutants, and England fans were left wondering where this passion and skill was in last year’s World Cup. For a new sport to the USA there was a decent enough crowd, claimed to be 20,000 plus and England’s stars will fly home happy at a job well done.

 

England: Ratchford, McGillvary, Bateman (T), Percival, Hall (T), Lomax, Widdop (6G), Hill, Roby, Graham, Burgess S, Whitehead (2T), O’Loughlin. Subs: Connor (T), Makinson (T), Burgess T, Taylor.

 

New Zealand: Watene-Zelezniak (2T), Isaako (3G), Marsters (T), Hiku, Maumalo, Martin, Nikorima, Waerea-Hargreaves, Luke, Asofa-Solomona, Faitala-Mariner, Tapine, Taupau. Subs: Fisher-Harris, Ese’ese, Griffin, Ah Mau.

 

Half Time: 10-12.

 

Full Time: 36-18.

 

Referee: Ben Thaler.

 

Attendance: .

 



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