The All Blacks avenged their loss to England a year ago by fighting back to win 30-22 at Twickenham, leaving them on target to complete the perfect year.
Scoring three tries to one, New Zealand survived the early injury departure of first five-eighth Dan Carter in his 100th Test and a muscular English forward effort to lodge their 13th win from 13 Tests in 2013. Victory against Ireland in Dublin next week will see them become the first team in the professional era to finish a year with a 100 per cent record.
Their streak came under serious pressure from an impressive England, whose 38-21 win in December was New Zealand’s last loss.
The hosts fought back from 17-3 down after 17 minutes to lead 22-20 entering the final quarter.
However, wing Julian Savea crossed for his second try as the All Blacks finished the stronger to honour a watching Carter with victory in his milestone game.
The celebrated playmaker exited with an achilles injury in the 27th minute and the limelight then fell for much of the game on opposite number Owen Farrell, who kicked 17 points in a perfect six-from-six display. Weight of English possession led to penalties, with the All Blacks guilty of numerous breakdown offences.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen praised his team’s mental strength over the closing stages. “We saw our lead slip away and when that happens, that can play on your mind,” he said.
“But it didn’t, the guys stayed connected with each other and came out on top. We started to dig into the quality of their lineout ball and, the few scrums we had, we managed to put some pressure on them.”
Even after his team scored 19 unanswered points, England coach Stuart Lancaster knew nothing was guaranteed. “When you’re playing against a side as good as New Zealand, there’s a chance one error will present an opportunity that they might take,” he said.
“We kept building our score and kept our composure but it’s all ifs, buts and maybes isn’t it? And they won.”
As with last weekend’s 26-19 win over France in Paris, the tourists spent much of the game defending but struck with points when it counted.
No.8 Kieran Read was central to both of the All Blacks’ early tries which pushed them 14 points clear. His offload to Savea put the wing over in just the second minute and the classy No.8 crossed himself from another blindside move to capitalise on a period marked by slick New Zealand ball movement.
Carter converted both and slotted a penalty while Farrell landed a lone English penalty. Momentum swung midway through the half, with England rewarded for a period of control when lock Joe Launchbury crossed following a messy scrum.
Minutes after replacing Carter, Aaron Cruden landed a penalty but his team were then reduced to 14 players when Read was shown a yellow card in the 33rd minute following a series of infringements. Farrell slotted two penalties as the English pack took a stranglehold before halftime.
The pattern continued after the break, with the second of two Farrell penalties in the 60th minute putting the hosts ahead for the first time. Savea’s second try came against the run of play four minutes later, running sweetly onto an offload by second five-eighth Ma’a Nonu before a Cruden penalty completed the scoring.
Carter is an unlikely starter for the Irish Test while fellow-centurion Tony Woodcock is ruled out with a hamstring injury that forced the prop off at halftime.