Though England fielded a weakened side in their first Test against New Zealand, a valiant performance saw them run the All Blacks close as the hosts left it late to win 20-15 in a thriller at Eden Park.
Conrad Smith broke England hearts in the dying embers of the match, dotting down to give New Zealand a 1-0 lead in the three-match series—as England Rugby reported:
NZ TRY: Heartbreak for England as Conrad Smith neatly dives over in the corner after a ruck close to the line. Harsh after huge effort.— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) June 7, 2014
As BBC Sport revealed, England were unable to field several first-choice stars due to injuries and scheduling issues, with head coach Stuart Lancaster having to leave out 13 players from Aviva Premiership finalists Saracens and Northampton Saints.
You wouldn't have thought that England were playing their B team with the way that the match started in Auckland, though, as the inexperienced outfit took an early lead.
After just two minutes, James Haskell earned a penalty following Ma'a Nonu's indiscretion after good pressure in the All Blacks' 22, leaving Freddie Burns to convert the penalty.
It was a strong start for the visitors in a half where England showed their dogged spirit and determination throughout, and they were rewarded by going in level at the break.
A hat-trick of Burns penalties was equalled by three from New Zealand's Aaron Cruden heading into the interval as the match still awaited its first try.
Chris Robshaw was leading by example on his quest to inspire England to glory, and he saw his side get their just reward when they retook the lead 22 minutes after the break.
It was Burns once again kicking over to make it 9-12, but Cruden was on hand to produce a quick response and the scores were locked again.
On 69 minutes came the turning point of the match—Marland Yarde, who was having a strong game, was sin-binned for not rolling away in the tackle, leaving the visitors to play out the final moments a man light.
The All Blacks then took full advantage; after a pair of Cruden and Danny Cipriani penalties made the score 15-15, Smith won the match for the hosts.
Namesake Ben Smith's good work on the blind-side after a switch from Jerome Kaino freed Smith in the corner, and he duly went over to claim the victory with just two minutes remaining on the clock.
Take nothing away from England, though, a makeshift team that did their nation proud at Eden Park.
Such sentiments were echoed by skipper Robshaw after the match, as Sky Sports revealed:
Another man to heap praise on the English was head coach Lancaster, who said that he felt pride and frustration in equal measure—per BBC Radio 5 live, via BBC Sport:
To lose at the end is tough because it was an outstanding effort. One or two things did not go our way, a little bit of game management but there were lots of positives. I always truly believed we could win, but we have some selection decisions to make because the lads that played today were outstanding.
Lancaster and Co. will have to wait until next weekend to exact revenge on the All Blacks, where a similar performance to Saturday's with a little more decisiveness could see them claim a famous victory.
Though several key players will be returning for England, none of the stars at Eden Park deserves to lose their place in the side. With such depth in the squad, Lancaster's expertise overseeing it all and the World Cup on the way, these are exciting times for English rugby.