All Blacks: McKenzie blames himself for penalty error in tight win

Damian McKenzie blames himself for being “timed out” on the late penalty kick in the All Blacks’ narrow victory over England in Dunedin tonight, adding it would have been “disastrous” had his side lost the Test as a result of his mistake.

McKenzie was about to kick the penalty with just under two minutes on the clock but was prevented by referee Nika Amashukeli, who said the All Blacks No.10 had taken longer than the allowed 60 seconds.

“He did rush me on my previous kick, saying ‘speed up’. I didn’t feel like I took too long in the last kick. He did say something… I went to go forward and it was too late,” McKenzie said.

“I’m not pointing the finger at anyone. It’s completely on my shoulders. I’ve got to sort it out around my process and speeding things up and knowing that once the penalty is blown I’ve got 60 seconds to kick it.

“There was a lot of relief after we got that final [turnover] penalty. I would have been disastrous if we’d lost and I couldn’t kick the three points.”

After the nervy 16-15 victory, both McKenzie and head coach Scott Robertson called for a shot clock to be displayed on the big screens at New Zealand stadiums.

“I’m not making any excuses but it would help,” McKenzie, who otherwise played well, said. “I have played in games where there is a shot clock so if there was one on the screen that would be awesome.”

Robertson said: “He thought in his mind he was all right but it’s the ref who has the whistle. We’ll learn from it.

“It would be nice to have a shot clock counting down like other sports do.”

The All Blacks celebrate their victory over England with the newly retained Hillary Shield.
The All Blacks celebrate their victory over England with the newly retained Hillary Shield. (Source: Photosport)

The narrow win – the home side had to fight back from a 10-15 deficit in the second half – allowed Robertson to start his All Blacks coaching career on a positive note but it could easily have gone the other way.

England first-five Marcus Smith missed a conversion and two relatively easy penalties under the roof and Steve Borthwick’s men will rue a huge missed opportunity.

The tourists put a huge amount of pressure on the All Blacks via their defensive line speed. Sevu Reece and Ardie Savea scored first-half tries for the All Blacks but attacking opportunities were at a premium after the break.

Fortunately for the All Blacks, their discipline, scrum dominance and defence gave them an edge. With experienced prop Joe Marler limping off with a foot injury after 20 minutes, England struggled at the set piece but excelled defensively.

“England came out of the blocks early,” McKenzie said. “We knew they would bring that intense line speed. They put us under pressure at times.”

For the man known as Razor the overwhelming emotion was relief.

“I was pleased with the effort and character,” Robertson said.

“They [England] are six games in this year and well-rehearsed… I’m just really pleased with the mental strength to come through after new calls, new management, new everything, but still the old stoic pride in the jersey. We found a way.”

While England had a full Six Nations plus a Test against Japan to prepare for the first Test Downunder, the All Blacks were in their first outing since losing the World Cup grand final to the Springboks in Paris.

The rustiness – especially on attack – was clear to see and the potential for improvement enormous.

Having retained the Hillary Shield, the two teams will turn their attentions to next Saturday at Eden Park, a venue the All Blacks have not lost at since 1994.

“We have to respect Eden Park for what it has given us over the years because we have prepared well,” Robertson said. “Tonight was a clear reminder about what Test footy is. You’ve still got to earn it at Eden Park.”

One of the All Blacks’ finest performers was Reece, who hardly touched the ball in the second half but showed a different part of his game – a physical intensity on defence that helped pin England in their own territory.

“Someone told me that the last time I played Test rugby was 18 months ago so to be back out there tonight was very, very special,” Reece said.

England skipper Jamie George said: “We came here to win. We came here to achieve something that no England team has done for 21 years. We really put our hand up at times and had control of the game for long periods.”

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