New Zealand hung on to win a thriller by a single point after Sam Underhill’s late try was controversially ruled out.
A try from the returning Chris Ashton after two minutes and another for skipper Dylan Hartley off a thundering rolling maul had established a well-deserved 15-0 early lead.
Damian McKenzie’s try and Beauden Barrett’s boot brought it back to 15-10 at half-time, before Barrett’s drop-goal and penalty edged the world champions in front.
England hung in the contest in dreadful conditions, and with five minutes to go celebrated as Underhill profited from a Courtney Lawes charge-down to dive into the corner.
But television replays showed that Lawes had been fractionally offside, and the chance of only a second win over the world champions in 15 years had gone.
It was a wonderful, relentless game, with errors everywhere but the pace unrelenting, and while Eddie Jones’ men were devastated at the end, it was a performance from an injury-hit side to give heart with the World Cup less than a year away.
Ashton splashes as England accelerate away
The two teams had waited four years to meet each other, and as torrential rain fell from the dark skies, England came out at a clattering pace.
Before the All Blacks could touch the ball in anger, England had carried hard into the opposition 22. As the backs massed left off a ruck, Ben Youngs threw a long blindside pass out to Ashton on the right wing for the maverick to sprint and slide into the corner – a dream return on his first start since 2012.
The old stadium was alive and although Farrell’s attempted conversion from the touchline came back off the post, he dropped back into the pocket off another bulldozing foray from his forwards to slot the drop-goal for 8-0.
The dominant nation in world rugby were beset with uncharacteristic errors, over-throwing line-outs, putting kicks long, spilling high balls, and England hit them again as they sat on the ropes.
Elliot Daly stuck a penalty into touch by the corner, and off the line-out the forwards mauled like a runaway tractor, with Jonny May, Henry Slade and Farrell all piling in as the white wedge splintered the black-shirted defence and careered over the line.
Farrell’s conversion made it 15-0, just as it had been in England’s famous victory in 2012. But even with the talismanic Sonny Bill Williams off injured once again, New Zealand came tearing back.
The forwards punched to within a metre of the try-line before centre Jack Goodhue put Damian McKenzie away with a cute inside ball, and Barrett’s conversion was a formality.
It quietened the crowd, and when Farrell put the re-start straight into touch, it left the door ajar again.
Another series of carries forced England to infringe in front of the posts, Barrett knocked over the penalty and it was suddenly a five-point game at the break.
Balance shifts in All Blacks’ favour
The comeback should have been complete within moments of the second half. McKenzie stepped Farrell and found Aaron Smith on his inside, but with the try-line open, the scum-half put the killer pass just behind Ardie Savea and the ball went loose.
Yet England were reeling, and when Barrett slapped over a drop-goal from a penalty advantage there was relief that it was three points rather than seven and the lead had narrowed yet held.
Back they came. Two penalties were kicked to the corner but this time the visiting defence held the rolling maul at bay, and then Kyle Sinckler knocked on as his team threatened a third try.
It was flawed but breathless. With McKenzie sticking a clearing kick straight into touch to gift England an attacking line-out on the Kiwi 22, replacement hooker Jamie George wasted it with a dummy throw.
On the hour, Barrett’s second penalty after the English defence went offside finally put the All Blacks ahead 16-15. The home crowd were now quiet, the fear of what might follow from the world champions latent in the late afternoon air.
Jones sensed the balance of power had shifted and threw on fresh props plus scrum-half Danny Care and Lawes into the back row.
Still the rain came down and still neither could land the killer blow. Farrell’s cross-kick won another attacking line-out, Brodie Retallick nicked the throw and New Zealand went 50m downfield at pace before knocking on.
With Ben Te’o going off, Farrell switched to centre and George Ford to 10, but England were pinned in their own half.
Then, with five minutes to go, they thought they had it won it. Underhill seized the loose ball off Lawes’ charge-down and bolted for the corner, wrong-footing Barrett before diving over the line.
But television match official Marius Jonker correctly ruled that Lawes had been an inch offside, and when May sliced through down the left, that final opening was lost to a knock-on.
‘A brilliant step-up for England’ – analysis
Matt Dawson, former England scrum-half on BBC Radio 5 live:
I think everyone expected New Zealand to be far too drilled, far too fit, far too motivated and to demolish England.
It was nothing of the sort. Yes, New Zealand were poor today and weren’t at their best, and we all know if you’re going to beat them you need that luck on your side.
This is still a brilliant step-up for England, especially seeing how poor they’d been in previous games this year. They went toe-to-toe with the best and I said it at the time – three points is everything. When you’re under the posts, you take the points and it’s those fine margins that we need to get right.
Brian Moore, former England hooker on BBC TV:
“England’s downfall lay in the second half and particularly the line-out.
“You have to give them credit for limiting the All Blacks to a single point, though. They deserve a lot of credit for their efforts in the second half, but their line-out let them down.”
Man of the match – Sam Underhill (England)
England: Daly; Ashton (Nowell 68), Slade, Te’o (Ford 72), May; Farrell, Youngs (Care 62); Moon (Hepburn 57), Hartley (George 40), Sinckler (Williams 57), Itoje, Kruis (Ewels 66), Shields (Lawes 65), Underhill, Wilson.
New Zealand: McKenzie (Mo’unga 62); Smith, Goodhue, Williams (Crotty 31), Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith (Perenara 62); K Tu’inukuafe (Tuungafasi 56), Taylor (Coles 44), Franks (Laulala 44), Whitelock, Retallick, Squire (S Barrett 52), Savea (Todd 67), Read.
England 15-16 New Zealand: All Blacks fight back to win at Twickenham}