England lost a heartbreaking encounter with New Zealand at Wembley in a game that will linger in the memory for a very long time.
|England vs. New Zealand, World Cup Semi-Final, Wembley|
|Tries: O'Loughlin, Watkins, Burgess||Tries: Tuivasa-Sheck (2), Johnson|
|Conversions: Linfield (2)||Conversions: Johnson (2)|
|Penalties: Linfield||Penalties: Johnson (2)|
The hosts survived an early period that saw them forced back into their own half for the opening minutes. However, inspired by a remarkable defensive stand that saw Sam Tomkins and James Charnley offer strong resistance, the crowd got behind the hosts and England began to make progress in attack.
New Zealand started to look a little rattled, and England took full advantage when James Graham and Sam Burgess broke powerfully through and offloaded the ball to Sean O'Loughlin to go through for a try.
Burgess added to his already strong reputation with a quick step past Elijah Taylor and earned a penalty, which Kevin Sinfield put over.
New Zealand were suddenly all over the place and in need of a miracle to get some momentum back. Luckily, Dean Whare obliged with one of the passes of the tournament.
The All Blacks were attempting to keep the drive going on sixth tackle, but the ball looked to be going out when Whare chased it down, leapt to grab it, stayed in touch and somehow flipped the ball to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to create a try out of nowhere.
It's the sort of thing you see in the NBA but not often in rugby. New Zealand were back in the game, but the feeling persisted that those sorts of moments would again be necessary to break England down.
Instead of rallying New Zealand, it instead seemed to inspire England to new heights.
Again led by Sam Burgess, the home side continued to match their opponents physically, wearing the defence down with powerful drives and pinning them back in their own half.
Despite this pressure, England failed to capitalise and New Zealand drew level through a penalty for an infringement by George Burgess.
It was a breathless first half that ended with both teams going into the tunnel with eight points each.
The second half began in much the same way as the first, with the Kiwis aggressive in attack and forcing England to remain strong in defence. Sonny Bill Williams caused all sorts of problems and England could only deal with him in groups of four or five.
Unlike the first half, however, the home side couldn't contain the onslaught and Tuivasa-Sheck broke through a weak Ryan Hall tackle to go over.
Small consolation for England came when Shaun Johnson missed the conversion, but they now had to play from behind for the first time in the game.
In order to do this, however, they had to get into the New Zealand half. Williams kept hammering the defence and it was only a desperate defensive stand that kept Tuivasa-Sheck from getting his hat-trick.
England continued to hold their line and withstood the tide to get back into the game.
A series of penalties conceded threatened to hold them back, but Sinfield marshalled his side into Kiwi territory and played Kallum Watkins in for the try.
Sinfield's influence failed to extend to his conversion, however, which sailed wide of the upright.
England kept pressing, Sinfield again at the heart of everything. With just under 15 minutes to go, Hall suddenly found daylight and ran up the left touchline with four points within his grasp. Unfortunately, he fell with 20 yards to go and fate suddenly seemed to frown on England.
As is commonplace in such classic encounters, there was more drama to come.
Immediately after, Sam Burgess was presented with an opportunity that he held on to, surging through after more solid work by Sinfield. No one was going to stop him and he ran over a tackle to cross the line and give England the lead.
Sinfield converted and there were four points and 14 minutes between England and a World Cup final.
England defended everything New Zealand threw at them until a high tackle on Williams with 50 seconds to play granted the All-Blacks another six tackles with which to attack.
Johnson was the man to benefit, skipping past two tackles and diving over the line to level the score. He converted his own try under immense pressure to send New Zealand through to the final with seconds to spare.
England can be very proud of the way they played but will be bitterly disappointed with the half chances missed and the penalty that eventually gave the game away.