With Twickenham rocking as England led 22-20 and scenting a second successive upset win following last year’s 38-21 thrashing, the world champions regrouped and managed to send winger Julian Savea over for his second try.
Flyhalf Dan Carter lasted only 26 minutes in his 100th test but by that time his side were seemingly in control after Savea and Kieran Read scored.
England, with their forwards in total command, roared back with a Joe Launchbury try and superb goalkicking by Owen Farrell and though they were edged out in the end the performance will give their young, developing side huge encouragement.
“We are deeply disappointed having put ourselves in position at 22-20 but I’m proud of the effort,” England coach Stuart Lancaster told reporters.
“We didn’t get off to the best of starts but we kept our composure, we kept building our score. But you know against New Zealand one error can present them an opportunity that they might take and that’s what happened.”
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw was relieved to have come through to make it 13 wins out of 13 with Ireland in Dublin next week to come.
“We knew it was going to be a battle and that’s what it was,” he said. “England played well and for a while they were winning the contact but we concentrated on keeping the ball and doing the basics and regain some control in the last quarter.”
Carter led the teams on to the pitch in recognition of his 100th cap – joining three other centurions in the All Black side lining up at Twickenham – but aggravated an Achilles problem in an early tackle and replaced by Aaron Cruden.
Only seven of England’s starting team from last year’s stunning victory survived while 13 of the All Blacks were on duty, including Read, the number eight who has made such an impact this season.
He was to the fore again from the start as he delivered a trademark offload after 90 seconds, despite the attention of three tacklers, leaving Savea an easy score.
A rare charge by prop Owen Franks blasted another hole in England’s defence and Read took advantage to stretch the lead to 17-3 after 17 minutes.
England looked to be reeling but got back to basics and controlled the rest of the half, dominating the breakdown and finding a way to smother and frustrate the All Blacks in a way that none of their southern hemisphere rivals ever seem able to do.
England’s forwards hammered at the line with a series of rolling mauls and after the TV match official ruled out a score by man of the match contender Billy Vunipola, he then found in favour of the hosts to allow one for Launchbury moments later.
Cruden marked his entry with a penalty after 27 minutes but it was a rare highlight for the visitors as England poured on the pressure.
With Read sin-binned as the All Blacks conceded repeated penalties, Farrell duly punished them to drag England into a 22-20 lead going into the last quarter.
While the home fans went wild, McCaw drew his players around him for a huddle as he tried to find a way to turn the tide.
It seemed to work and great work by Ma’a Nonu sent Savea over for his second try to complete a remarkable recovery a week after he spent the night in a Paris hospital with a lung infection.
Cruden converted then added another penalty to keep his side on course for a remarkable 2013 clean sweep.
The teams will meet again four times next year, three when England tour in June and back at Twickenham in November.
(Editing by Justin Palmer)