Top England vs New Zealand tests in history reviewed

England play the All Blacks in a two-test tour this summer, the team’s first trip to New Zealand since 2014. It comes almost 120 years after the first test between the two nations.

The first came on 2nd of December 1905, and was played out in front of a record crowd of 50,000 at Crystal Palace, coming during the All Blacks’ maiden tour outside Australasia.

They won 15-0, continuing their legendary 35-game, 34-win, 151-day romp of the been anything but black and white UK, Ireland, France and USA with a squad featuring four Bills and two Billys. It established the All Blacks’ place as rugby’s team to beat – something that England have only managed on eight occasions, not forgetting a couple of draws. We’ve selected a dozen of the best England-New Zealand clashes…

Related: See the full England squad for the Summer Tour against New Zealand

England 38 – 21 New Zealand: 2012, Twickenham

Manu Tuilagi runs past Richie McCaw

Manu Tuilagi runs past Richie McCaw during England vs New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium (Photo by Matthew Lewis – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

One of the greatest England performances ever witnessed by a Twickenham crowd – and against the reigning world champions. Owen Farrell’s opening 15 points from the boot were quickly cancelled out by tries from Julian Savea and Kieran Read, bringing that spectre of inevitable All Blacks victory to cast its shadow over TW2 once more.

Enter Manu Tuilagi, who produced a true ‘man v boys’ performance, setting up a Chris Ashton try with a carving midfield break before waltzing over for his own score. It secured one of the rare highlights of Stuart Lancaster’s coaching tenure.

New Zealand 10 – 16 England: 1973, Eden Park

England rugby players arrive back from New Zealand

England rugby players arriving at Heathrow Airport from New Zealand, London, UK, 18th September 1973. (Getty Images)

New Zealand has never been a happy hunting ground for England, with only two wins in 15 attempts. The first of those came in this 1973 fixture when Bristol’s John Pullin captained a touring side that included flying Lions winger David Duckham and a young prop called Fran Cotton. Reports from the time credit the late Jan Webster as the difference, the Moseley scrum-half later recalling the Test showcasing “prehistoric rugby and fabulous sideburns”. Grainy YouTube highlights prove Webster is no liar!

This short tour of New Zealand and Fiji only came about as a replacement trip to a proposed inaugural series with Argentina that was cancelled because of terror threats.

England 6 – 32 New Zealand: 2008, Twickenham

Ma'a Nonu scores for New Zealand against England

Ma’a Nonu scores for New Zealand against England; Twickenham, 2008 (Getty Images)

England had almost as many sin-bins (four) as they had points on the board. Truth be told, New Zealand were not even at their best here, only really moving into second gear in the final quarter with two tries from Mils Muliaina and one from Ma’a Nonu.

With three back-to-back losses at HQ – the previous week being a record home defeat to South Africa – this fixture rounded off a tepid season which fell slap bang in the middle of what could be described as England’s wilderness years. The game also saw New Zealand complete a third home nations Grand Slam – and a second in three years – while also ending their tour without conceding a try.

Related: How to watch England vs New Zealand this Summer Tour

England 26 – 26 New Zealand: 1997, Twickenham

Former England coach Clive Woodward celebrates

England coach Clive Woodward celebrates during All Blacks match at Twickenham (David Rogers/Allsport)

The bookies had England out at 20-1 for victory in this 1997 match-up, a punt that almost came in. England raced into a 23-9 lead at the break thanks to tries by Richard Hill, David Rees and captain Lawrence Dallaglio. However, as is so often the case, New Zealand hit back.

Walter Little and Andrew Mehrtens led the comeback charge to nudge the All Blacks ahead. It was left to Paul Grayson, with a penalty nine minutes from time, to claw a draw that Dallaglio said earned “a lot of respect” for the new side built by Clive Woodward.

New Zealand 45 – 29 England: 1995, Newlands

Jonah Lomu against England at the 1995 Rugby World Cup

New Zealand winger Jonah Lomu against England Newlands in Cape Town (VINCENT AMALVY/AFP via Getty Images)

The game that gave us Jonah Lomu. As he trampled over poor Mike Catt for that opening try, a superstar was born and the sport of rugby changed forever. It was a moment that made commentators gasp, prompted England captain Will Carling to plead with the 118kg winger to “go away” and created an icon that transcended the rugby field.

Lomu scored four times that day in a performance so good you almost forget that Kiwi No 8 Zinzan Brooke slotted a drop-goal from halfway. Carling and Rory Underwood, with two tries apiece, regained some respectability.

England 16 – 26 New Zealand: 2010, Twickenham

England centre Mike Tindall against New Zealand

England’s Centre Mike Tindall gets tackled by New Zealand’s Prop Tony Woodcock (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

New Zealand’s fourth and most recent home nations Grand Slam came 14 years ago when a Richie McCaw-led side got things off to a flying start against a spirited England team. The home side showed tenacity, with plaudits going to the scrummaging prowess of 23-year-old Dan Cole, winning what was just his eighth cap.

However, the speed and guile shown by the likes of Dan Carter, Sonny Bill Williams and Hosea Gear proved too much for a young England side. “What cost us in the end was an inability to start at the same pace and tempo they did,” said England boss Martin Johnson.

England 31 – 28 New Zealand: 2002, Twickenham

England's Jonny Wilkinson against New Zealand

England’s Jonny Wilkinson against New Zealand at Twickenham, (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Come for the show-and-go by James Simpson-Daniel, stay for Jonny Wilkinson’s perfectly weighted chip-and-chase try. In front of a bouncing home crowd, England secured only their fifth-ever victory against New Zealand thanks to a fly-half masterclass from Wilkinson in which he scored 21 points, the beautifully taken try just after the half being the cherry on top. Lewis Moody and Ben Cohen also got on the scoresheet but it was Wilkinson’s fine solo performance that made the headlines.

Related: How to watch England vs New Zealand this Summer Tour

New Zealand coach John Mitchell called him “outstanding” and England’s Clive Woodward labelled him one of the “great players in the world”. “This was the day we said, ‘We’re the top team in the world’,” Josh Lewsey said. “It was a massive transformation from which we built for the next few years.”

This was also the last time in which the late Jonah Lomu crossed the try-line in an All Blacks jersey, with two trademark barrelling tries. Two games later, he hung up his international boots due to an ever-worsening kidney condition.

England 12 – 18 New Zealand: 1991, Twickenham

England v New Zealand, Mike Teague.

England v New Zealand, Mike Teague of England passes the ball out of a maul. (Photo by Mark Leech/Getty Images)

Although the 1991 World Cup was hosted across five nations, the staging of the final at Twickenham provided a sense of anticipation for an England side that had secured a Grand Slam that year and were being touted by some as favourites.

Things, however, got off to a rocky start when the opening game saw the defending champions take the spoils courtesy of Grant Fox’s boot and a Michael Jones try off a scrum move. “We were nervous and disappointing,” said England wing Simon Halliday.

New Zealand 36 – 12 England: 2004, Eden Park

New Zealand prop Carl Hayman

New Zealand prop Carl Hayman after playing England (Getty Images)

Less than a year on from winning the World Cup, depleted England found themselves back in the doldrums of yet another whitewash Down Under with two defeats to New Zealand and a whipping by the Wallabies.

This game was decided by a red card for Simon Shaw in the tenth minute. It created an imbalance that was exploited by an electric back-line featuring Carlos Spencer and Dan Carter in the ten-12 pivot and Joe Rokocoko wreaking havoc from the wing – he scored a hat-trick.

New Zealand 7 – 19 England: 2019, Yokohama

England vs New Zealand at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

England vs New Zealand at the 2019 Rugby World Cup (Getty Images)

From the Sébastien Chabal staredown to David Campese’s dead-ball antics, iconic responses to the haka have often entered the folklore of rugby – and the 2019 World Cup semi-final in Japan is no different. From the moment Owen Farrell led his team into that controversial V formation in response to the haka, a ploy that resulted in a £2,000 fine, we knew we had a game on our hands.

Related: How to watch England vs New Zealand this Summer Tour

It preceded a gloriously dominant display from England in which they stifled New Zealand’s potent attack of any life and walked away as convincing victors. England would come unstuck in the final against South Africa but this performance lives long in the memory.

New Zealand 64 – 22 England: 1998, Carisbrook

All Black Captain Taine Randell

All Black Captain Taine Randell v England, 20 June 1998 at Carisbrrok Park, Dunedin. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

It’s hard to resist a reference to the aptly named ‘Tour of Hell’. After a 76-0 annihilation by the Wallabies, England continued their trudge in neighbouring New Zealand. Things went from bad to worse with losses to NZ A, a NZ Rugby Academy side and NZ Maori to go alongside two routs by the All Blacks.

In truth, the defeat in Dunedin was pretty unremarkable – save for a Danny Grewcock red card and Josh Lewsey Test debut – but it’s the wider impact this tour had on the next five years of English rugby that sees it make the cut.

New Zealand 12 – 15 England: 2003, Wellington

England players Lawrence Dallaglio, Steve Thompson and Joe Worsley

England players Lawrence Dallaglio, Steve Thompson and Joe Worsley celebrate victory against New Zealand (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The match was tied at 6-all just after the half, Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back were in the bin, New Zealand were calling for scrum after scrum a kitten’s whisker away from the try-line. It was here that the game was won.

England’s seven-man scrum (with Mike Tindall as temporary forward) became as strong as spider’s silk, resisting wave after wave of All Black pushover onslaught and eventually earning a penalty to clear their lines following a Rodney So’oialo double movement. England’s watertight defence while down to 13 crushed the All Blacks’ morale, and Jonny Wilkinson’s boot secured the touring side an historic win.

This remains the only occasion on which England have taken back-to-back victories against New Zealand and it solidified their status as favourites for that year’s World Cup.

This article originally featured in Issue 300 of Rugby World.

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