LONDON (AFP) - New Zealand started the European leg of their November tour with a hard-fought 24-21 win over England at Twickenham on Saturday.
In a match billed by some as a potential World Cup final between the reigning champions (New Zealand) and the 2015 tournament hosts (England), the All Blacks' greater rugby "nous" told as they recorded their fifth straight win over the Red Rose brigade following a 3-0 home series victory in June.
England were 14-11 up at half-time, but New Zealand, with captain Richie McCaw scoring a try, hit back in the rain-lashed second half before a last-minute penalty try for the hosts narrowed the score.
"It felt like we had control for most of the game, bar those last few minutes," McCaw told Sky Sports.
"We are just happy that our last visit to Twickenham of the season is a win," man-of-the-match McCaw added.
"Ten months is a long time in rugby though, we will have to see if it has any affect at the World Cup."
Disappointed England captain Chris Robshaw, like McCaw an openside flanker, said: "The first half we played really well in the right areas.
"Unfortunately in the second half the conditions came down and we could not get field position."
England kicked-off buoyed by the memory of their record 38-21 win over New Zealand at Twickenham in 2012 and they gave a Test debut to Fiji-born wing Semesa Rokoduguni, a serving British Army soldier.
But their task on Saturday was not helped by the absence of seven injured British and Irish Lions - Dan Cole, Alex Corbisiero, Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Geoff Parling Tom Croft and Manu Tuilagi, as well as lock Joe Launchbury and centre Luther Burrell.
New Zealand's matchday 23 boasted more than double the number of caps than England's squad, while All Blacks wing Julian Savea, with 29 tries in 30 Tests had scored more than England (20 tries) had managed between them.
Yet despite their relative lack of experience, it took England just four minutes to open the scoring in dramatic style.
The ball was worked wide to left wing Jonny May, who promptly went round New Zealand centre Conrad Smith and then went past Israel Dagg, when it seemed the full-back had lined him up, for his first Test try.
Owen Farrell then missed the difficult conversion.
England nearly had another try soon afterwards but fullback Mike Brown knocked on a pass from centre Kyle Eastmond just metres from the line.
It was a miss that was punished by New Zealand when they hit back in the 14th minute following their first visit to England's 22.
All Blacks wing Ben Smith beat May in an aerial challenge and the ball was then spun wide, with blindside flanker Jerome Kaino bursting between Robshaw and Courtney Lawes.
From a close-range ruck, referee Nigel Owens ruled fly-half Aaron Cruden had just done enough to touch the try-line.
Cruden couldn't convert but the match was now all square.
Farrell then kicked two penalties to take England into an 11-5 lead.
England, in a typically bruising contest, saw lock Lawes leave the field with suspected concussion Cruden responded to Farrell's penalties with two of his own.
Farrell missed a drop-goal but, on the stroke of half-time, the fly-half kicked England into a three-point lead.
Cruden saw his early second-half penalty come back off the post, but New Zealand soon led for the first time in the match.
England replacement lock George Kruis rushed up in defence but was left stranded by Cruden's cut-out pass.
Prop forward Owen Franks charged forward and New Zealand created an overlap which meant McCaw had time to gather Dagg's poor pass before crossing for a try.
Cruden made a mess of the conversion but New Zealand were 16-14 in front.
New Zealand were a man down in the 57th minute when Dane Coles was shown a yellow card for kicking out at opposing hooker Hartley.
Yet, New Zealand still managed to extend their lead.
Replacement fly-half Beauden Barrett missed his first close-range penalty but landed his second to make it 19-14.
Then a relentless series of attacks was rewarded with a first Test try for replacement prop Charlie Faumuina nine minutes from time.
England scored a converted penalty try in the final minute but it was all too late for the home side.
Next weekend England face in-form South Africa at Twickenham while New Zealand play Scotland at Murrayfield.