England opened their Test series with New Zealand with a narrow victory over New Zealand at the KCOM Stadium.
A closely contested encounter throughout, a moment of brilliance from Oliver Gildart, on his international debut, proved to be the game breaker with his stunning sprint from halfway the decisive score.
Victory for England puts them 1-0 ahead in the three-match series, with matches at Anfield and Elland Road coming in the next fortnight.
England made the dream start and were ahead after less than three minutes. A high hanging kick from George Williams was met by the onrushing Tommy Makinson who ducked up a tackle before two exceptional offloads from Elliott Whitehead and Jonny Lomax gave Sam Tomkins to room to dive over to the right of the posts.
Jake Connor converted for a 6-0 lead.
England’s confident mood showed through a rare kick from skipper Sean O’Loughlin was a metre too far for Jermaine McGillvary to run onto whilst clear in the right corner.
Makinson misjudges high kick, forced back tries to offload to Connor, unsuccessful, Rapana knock on
Exceptional rugby from New Zealand saw them respond ten minutes later as Esan Marsters latched onto a crisp inside pass from Shaun Johnson.
The aforementioned provider levelled the scores with the conversion.
New Zealand almost extended their lead shortly after when Makinson bizarrely attempted an offload a metre from his own line which Jordan Rapana touched down, although replays showed he’d knocked on prior to that.
On the half hour mark, the Kiwis went in front profiting from a costly England error. McGillvary cheaply knocked on 25 metres from his own line and straight from the scrum a quick dash and short pass from Kodi Nikorima teed up Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to go to the line.
Another Johnson goal established a six-point lead.
England’s kicking game was proving ineffectual thereafter with Sam Tomkins and Josh Hodgson regularly misplacing kicks going forward.
But, seconds before the break, England were awarded a penalty try when Connor dived over on the left side with video referee Ben Thaler ruling that Watene-Zelezniak had dived in with his knees. A Connor goal in front of the posts saw the scores level at the break.
England were the first to be in meaningful territory in the first half after winning a repeat inside the New Zealand ten, but again they lacked any creativity with a poor Tomkins grubber coming at the end of the set.
The away side went back up to the other end and Johnson slotted over a penalty in front of the posts after holding on the half-back.
Back came England though with a penalty goal of their own minutes later, Connor again on target on the left flank.
After Nikorima knocked on in the left corner, fellow half-back Johnson nudged New Zealand back ahead with another penalty goal, this time from the touchline.
With 15 minutes left, England finally produced a moment of class as a sensational run from England debutant Oliver Gildart saw him take a offload from former Wigan team-mate John Bateman short of halfway before skipping past Watene-Zelezniak to gleefully touch down.
Connor missed for the first time in the afternoon, leaving England just a couple of points in front and setting up a frantic finale.
In the dying minutes, Lomax proved brave to claim the ball in the air from a hanging kick before taking a tackle in the air.
With ten seconds left, Shaun Johnson attempted a kick-and-chase which Connor claimed, with a crucial victory for England secured.
England: Lomax; Makinson, Connor, Gildart, McGillvary; Williams, Tomkins; T Burgess, Hodgson, Graham; Bateman, Whitehead, O’Loughlin. Subs: Thompson, Hill, G Burgess, Clark
New Zealand: Watene-Zelezniak; Maumalo, Marsters, Manu, Rapana; Johnson, Nikorima; J Bromwich, Smith, Waerea-Hargreaves; Proctor, Liu, Fisher-Harris. Subs: K Bromwich, Ah Mau, Taupau, Tapine
Starman: Oliver Gildart. A stunning match-winning try from the England debutant.