Men in black roll on with yet another victory
New Zealand out-ran and ultimately out-gunned a resourceful England A in an absorbing match in Leicester last night. Despite the defeat the England A captain Ben Clarke enhanced his prospects of a Test recall against the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday with a committed display of leadership and back-row skills.
Although the tourists scored four tries, through Scott McLeod, Anton Oliver, Charles Riechelmann and Tana Umaga, they were made to work prodigiously hard for them.
Tim Stimpson was England A's most reliable points scorer with four penalty goals and a conversion, and scrum-half Scott Benton had the satisfaction of going over for the game's final try.
England A put their opponents under intense early pressure with a couple of thunderous drives through the middle, orchestrated by Clarke. Given the number of errors England forced at that stage, it was no surprise to see them take the lead with a 30metre penalty goal by Stimpson after a high tackle on Matt Allen.
The New Zealanders might easily have scored a try from their first serious attack when the pack drove swiftly down the left flank, but first the number eight Steve Surridge and then the captain Todd Blackadder were grounded a metre from the line.
England surrendered their lead tamely when they were thrown into disarray by a lancing diagonal run from left wing Glen Osborne. When the ball was suddenly switched inside to McLeod, the England hooker Mark Regan was deceived by a sidestep as the centre darted through to score at the posts. Carlos Spencer proved he was human after all, missing a simple conversion kick.
The New Zealanders then set up a rolling maul down the right touchline which rumbled forward with inexorable momentum until the hooker Oliver fell on the ball for the touchdown. This time Spencer directed his conversion kick from a difficult angle between the uprights.
England refused to be intimidated by the practised manner in which their opponents had built up a 12-3 lead. Midway through the half, Stimpson landed a 40metre penalty goal and before the break, knocked over two excellent kicks to make it 12-12.
England A tried to sustain their gung-ho approach in the second half, but the All Blacks moved up a gear to score a brilliantly worked try by Riechelmann who profited from a remarkable weaving sprint to the line by Umaga. Spencer added the points, supplemented by a penalty, before Preston took over the kicking to increase the margin.
New Zealand then made the game safe eight minutes from time when some superb handling led to Tana Umaga crashing over in the left corner but Preston could not land the conversion.
England A hit back and in injury time scored a consolation try when Scott Benton picked up a loose ball 45 metres from the New Zealand line and ran unchallenged to touch down next to the posts for a try which Stimpson converted.