England had put themselves in a winning position with 13 minutes to play, and set about a stern defensive effort, only to see their resolve broken in the cruellest of fashions at the death.
After James Graham was pegged for a high tackle on Sonny Bill Williams, Johnson darted past Kevin Sinfield and raced over the line, and then dusted himself off to add the conversion that won the match.
They took the lead on 16 minutes, off the back of some great work by front-rowers Graham and Sam Burgess, who were both magnificent for the England cause. Graham, who had fly hacked a loose ball after the referee had waved back to one, was rescued when a scrum was called for a knock on, and he wasn’t going to ask twice, feeding the ball to Burgess who burst through two tacklers and offloaded to Sean O’Loughlin for the game’s first try.
Much like against Australia, England had played well in the first 20 minutes, and after James Roby‘s kick had forced a drop out, a break by Burgess won a penalty, when Gareth Widdop was tackled without the ball. Sinfield took the two points on offer and England led 8-0.
But just like at the Millennium Stadium a month ago, England surrendered their lead before half time. Kieran Foran’s kick to the corner on the last was knocked back inside by Jason Nightingale and the Kiwis managed to keep the ball alive. As an overlap appeared on the right, Isaac Luke‘s pass looked to have gone too far, only for an incredible offload by Dean Whare at the touchline set up Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Johnson goaled, and he added a penalty on the stroke of half time when George Burgess was penalised for a tackle off the ball, and it was 8-8.
England‘s hard work in the first half threatened to undo itself at the start of the second period, as they were pinned for six consecutive penalties.
The wingman nearly had his hat-trick on 50 minutes, after yet more penalty trouble, but he was bundled in to touch.
Johnson then added his second penalty, when Widdop took him out under a high ball, and the Kiwis led 14-8.
But England, who had defended well to their credit, then found some momentum.
Guided round the field by Sinfield and Widdop, partnering each other for the first time at this World Cup, they hit back on the hour mark, when a superb pass by Sinfield found his Leeds team-mate Kallum Watkins on a fine angled run to score.
That triggered more England pressure, and when Widdop collected a loose ball, Hall was sent flying down the left hand side, only to slip as he attempted to beat the full back close to the line. The ball was shifted right, and opposite winger Josh Charnley was then denied close to the line.
But eventually, the pressure told and England regained the lead. Widdop’s short kick forced a drop out, and from it, Sinfield’s expertly delayed pass sent Burgess charging away from 30m and nobody was stopping him.
That gave the hosts a 16-14 lead with 13 minutes left, and they bravely stood firm, only to be denied at the death.
As the minutes ticked by, Graham’s high shot on Sonny Bill forced a repeat set, and from it, Luke went close, and then Johnson delivered the killer blow to snatch it 20-18, to ensure the holders have a chance to defend their trophy at Old Trafford next Saturday.
New Zealand: Locke, Tuivasa-Sheck, Whare, Goodwin, Nightingale, Foran, Johnson, Waerea-Hargreaves, Luke, Bromwich, Mannering, Williams, Taylor. Interchanges: Nu’uausala, Kasiano, Matulino, Glenn.
Scorers: Tries – Tuivasa-Sheck (31, 45), Johnson (80) Goals – Johnson 4/5
England: Tomkins, Charnley, Watkins, Cudjoe, Hall, Widdop, Sinfield, Graham, Roby, S Burgess, Ferres, Westwood, O’Loughlin. Interchanges: Burrow, G Burgess, Hill, Ablett.
Scorers: Tries – O’Loughlin (16), Watkins (59), S Burgess (67) Goals – Sinfield 3/4
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Referee: Ben Cummins