All Blacks 26
The All Blacks assault on another rugby Grand Slam cleared base camp at Twickenham today, as the Hillary Shield was defended with a rugged 26-16 victory over an England side not quite able to survive in New Zealand's rarefied airspace.
A last-minute Bledisloe Cup loss to the Wallabies in Hong Kong last weekend ended a series of All Blacks ambitions- though several impressive numbers still remain intact.
The All Blacks ninth successive triumph over the English also extended their unbeaten sequence on northern hemisphere end of year tours to 20 internationals - though one staunchly defended statistic has been amended, ironically by Rotorua-born hooker Dylan Hartley.
When Hartley completed an audacious counterattack in the 57th minute, it was the first try conceded by the All Blacks on end of year tours since Martyn Williams scored for Wales at Cardiff in November 2006 - eight matches ago.
Hartley's try, after wing Chris Ashton boldly exploited space after calling a mark, was justified reward for an England side which defied convention to play with a verve and purpose rarely associated with their predecessors.
The hosts sought to play with tempo from the outset, tapping the first trio of penalties awarded by French referee Romain Poite in a bid to unruffle the All Blacks at their own game.
However, tries in quick succession to impressive wing Hosea Gear and No 8 Kieran Read to close out a frenetic opening quarter provided the All Blacks with enough breathing space - and a decisive 17-3 lead at halftime.
Gear, in just his third cap since debuting in Hong Kong enroute to the successful Grand Slam expedition of 2008, displayed the clinical finishing he is renowned for in at domestic and Super rugby level when he grounded the ball despite Ashton's desperate lunge in the 16th minute.
Gear was the beneficiary of a trademark Williams bust and majestic offload to Jerome Kaino - the hype can be believed to a point, the centre of attention supplied some threatening touches on his much-anticipated test debut.
Read powered over from close range after a Dan Carter incision then support from Mils Muliaina and Gear forced England to concede a five-metre scrum.
Gear crashed the ball up from the set piece before Read proved unstoppable close to the uprights.
After conceding two converted tries, England acknowledged they would have to score in multiples of three when Toby Flood goaled in the 24th minute.
A 14-point deficit at the break appeared ominous for England but to the credit of Martin Johnson's personnel a potential rout was prevented.
England ultimately dominated large tracts of a second spell they "won" 13-9, particularly at the set piece when their pride in the scrum had the All Black pack increasingly offside with Poite.
Flood narrowed the margin four minutes after the resumption after Tony Woodcock binded incorrectly.
Carter, who contributed 16 points, restored the buffer when Lewis Moody infringed at a ruck, then England's hopes rose exponentially when Hartley burrowed over the end of Ashton's audacious 80-metre counter attack.
Shontayne Hape also went desperately close to adding a second Kiwi-bred five-pointer in Gear's corner with five minutes to elapse but replacement back Isaia Toeava managed to bounce him into touch with such force the midfielder fumbled the ball.
Hartley, who replaced the veteran Steve Thomson, typified England's determination not to be cowed by a team that had not bettered since Wellington, 2003.
There could be a price to pay, however, after he appeared to knee All Blacks captain Richie McCaw in the 69th minute.
Blindside flanker Kaino was penalised for illegally joining a maul in that movement and an identical indiscretion two minutes later forced the All Blacks to close out a tense contest with a man down.
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Tries: Hosea Gear, Kieran Read. Pens: Daniel Carter 4. Cons: Carter 2
Try: Dylan Hartley. Pens: Toby Flood 3. Con: Flood