England coach Eddie Jones insisted his side had “finished the stronger” after an agonising 16-15 loss to world champions New Zealand at a rainswept Twickenham on Saturday.
England surged into a 15-0 lead midway through the first half following tries from right wing Chris Ashton and New Zealand-born hooker Dylan Hartley.
But the All Blacks fought back by scoring 16 unanswered points with full-back Damian McKenzie’s 39th-minute try supplemented by Beauden Barrett’s conversion, and two penalties either side of a drop-goal – the fly-half’s first in 71 Test matches.
Yet England, missing some 17 players through injury and suspension, thought they had won the match with four minutes left when impressive openside flanker Sam Underhill crossed for a try after Courtney Lawes had charged down New Zealand replacement scrum-half TJ Perenara’s kick.
But experienced French referee Jerome Garces, after consulting the television match official, ruled Lawes had been offside and disallowed the score, effectively ending England’s bid for just an eighth win in 41 Tests against the All Blacks.
Nevertheless, with the 2019 World Cup in Japan on the horizon, Jones said: “I thought we played the final 20 [minutes] exceptionally well.
“If you look at any sort of metrics in the last 20, we won that final 20,” the Australian added. “We’ll take enormous confidence from that.
“The All Blacks . . . generally run away from teams in that area and they couldn’t break us,” said Jones, whose side had launched their November campaign with an unconvincing – and try-less – 12-11 win at home to South Africa last weekend.
“In fact, we finished stronger. If we’d kept going for another five minutes, we would’ve got them. We’re excited about where we’re going.”
Reflecting on the match as a whole, former Australia and Japan coach Jones said: “We’re obviously devastated. We had opportunities to win the game, we didn’t take them, they did.
“They deserved to win the game. Full credit to New Zealand.”
As for Garces deciding to disallow Underhill’s try, Jones said: “I don’t comment on those decisions . . . Sometimes the game loves you and sometimes the game doesn’t love you.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen praised Garces for being “brave enough” to ignore the roars of the crowd.
“There was no doubt [Lawes] is offside. He’s just about in the half-back’s [scrum-half’s] back pocket.
“What was going through my mind was are they [the officials] going to be brave enough to make the right decision? And they were. It’s good.”
Hansen added: “I thought England were very, very good and I thought we showed a lot of character.
Wales end Wallabies losing streak
New Zealand centre Sonny Bill Williams could miss next Saturday’s clash with Six Nations champions Ireland in Dublin after going off with a first-half shoulder injury at Twickenham that Hansen said could take “a week, maybe two” to heal.
England’s next match is against Japan at Twickenham.
Meanwhile, Dan Biggar hit a late penalty to help Wales edge Australia 9-6 on Saturday and buck a 10-year, 13-match losing streak against the Wallabies.
Psychological one-upmanship was up for grabs in a dress rehearsal of what had been billed a pool-deciding match at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
But neither side shone from an attacking point of view in what was a true defensive slugfest, albeit intense, at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium where there was little reward for all the hard-hitting hustle and bustle.
The score at half-time was locked at 3-3 thanks to one penalty apiece by Leigh Halfpenny and Bernard Foley, the misfiring Welsh full-back adding one more before going off injured.
Matt Toomua hit Australia’s second penalty late in the game before Biggar knocked over the winning score with two minutes to play to extend Wales’s winning streak to seven games – the best since the 2004-05 season.
“There’s some real momentum at the moment, that’s seven in a row,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland.
“From a defensive point of view we looked very comfortable.”
Gatland’s Australian counterpart Michael Cheika insisted his team would take the defeat “on the chin” ahead of games against Italy and England.
Elsewhere Ireland made it 10 successive home wins in a 28-17 victory over Argentina on Saturday at Lansdowne Road that came at a cost for the Six Nations Grand Slam holders.
The hosts scored three tries to the visitors’ one but lost flanker Sean O’Brien, scrum-half Kieran Marmion and centre Robbie Henshaw, who was hurt in the warm-up, to injuries.
Their losses could prove a spanner in the works for head coach Joe Schmidt’s plans with world champions New Zealand due on Saturday in a clash of the world’s two top-ranked teams.