England have continued their steady improvement in internationals with a solid 36-18 win over New Zealand in Denver this morning.
Despite a botched kickoff by Kiwis hooker Issac Luke (largely due to the altitude at which the game was played), it would be the New Zealanders who dominated early play. They got their reward in the tenth minute when young Esan Marsters scored his maiden test four-pointer after a handy assist from Kodi Nikorima. He almost scored off a break a few minutes later.
Close to the half hour mark, NZ's advantage doubled when Dallin Watene-Zelezniak dodged Tom Burgess on the way to the line and with Jamayne Isaako converting both the Kiwis' first half tries, they took a 12-0 lead.
However a clever change from coach Wayne Bennett ultimately turned the game on its head. Struggling at halfback, Jonny Lomax was withdrawn from the contest and replaced by Jake Connor, and things immediately began to open up for the English.
At the 33 minute mark, Connor and Gareth Widdop helped Ryan Hall score the opener, and although replays suggested he didn't ground the ball, it was awarded and they were on the board. Not long after, Elliott Whitehead grabbed a four pointer - again set up by Connor and the margin was trimmed to just two points ahead of the halftime siren.
After halftime, England seized control of the contest. A Widdop penalty goal in the 47th minute levelled scores before Whitehead picked up his second try to get the English in front for the first time, and from there they never looked back.
Connor scored a spectacular individual try of his own on the hour mark before Tommy Makinson put the result beyond any doubt five minutes later and England had suddenly pushed out to a 32-12 lead with fifteen remaining.
The Kiwis pulled a consolation back through Watene-Zelezniak before a final-minute four-pointer to John Bateman laid the result to rest, a novelty attempt at conversion from James Graham unsuccessful in the final moments for a 36-18 scoreline.
The result gives the sides plenty to consider - especially New Zealand - ahead of their test series in England later this year. It no doubt also gave the fans in attendance at the neutral venue - some 19,320 of them - a new sport to consider getting behind in what can only be described as a successful venture to the land of the star spangled banner.