McKenzie blames himself for penalty mistake in narrow win

Damian McKenzie blames himself for being “exhausted” in the final moments of the penalty in the All Blacks’ narrow win over England in Dunedin tonight, adding that it would have been “disastrous” if his team had lost the Test as a result of his error.

McKenzie was about to take the penalty with less than two minutes remaining in the match but referee Nika Amashukeli stopped him, saying the All Blacks number 10 had taken longer than the allotted 60 seconds.

“He rushed me on my previous kick, he said ‘speed up.’ I didn’t feel like I was taking too long on the last kick. He said something… I tried to move forward and it was too late,” McKenzie said.

“I’m not pointing the finger at anyone. It’s completely my responsibility. I have to figure it out based on my process and speed things up and know that once the penalties are called, I have 60 seconds to take them.

“I was very relieved after we were awarded that final penalty (for a turnover). It would have been a disaster if we had lost and I hadn’t been able to score the three points.”

After the nervy 16-15 win, both McKenzie and head coach Scott Robertson called for a shot clock to be displayed on the giant screens in New Zealand’s stadiums.

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

Robertson said: “He thought it was OK, but it’s the referee who has the whistle. We’ll learn from this.”

“It would be nice to have a clock that counts down like in other sports.”

The narrow victory (the home side had to overturn a 10-15 second-half deficit) allowed Robertson to begin his All Blacks coaching career on a positive note, but it could easily have gone the other way.

Marcus Smith, the first of the five Englishmen, missed a conversion and two relatively easy penalties indoors and Steve Borthwick’s men will rue a huge missed opportunity.

The tourists put enormous pressure on the All Blacks thanks to the speed of their defensive line. Sevu Reece and Ardie Savea scored tries in the first half for the All Blacks, but attacking opportunities were few and far between after the break.

Fortunately for the All Blacks, their discipline, scrum mastery and defence gave them an advantage. With experienced prop Joe Marler hobbled off with a foot injury after 20 minutes, England struggled at set-pieces but excelled in defence.

“England came out early,” McKenzie said. “We knew they were going to bring that intense 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) have played six games this year and have practiced well… I’m really pleased with the mental strength they’ve had to come through after new squads, new management, new everything, but still with the old stoic pride in the shirt. 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 on their first outing since losing the World Cup final to the Springboks in Paris.

The lack of solidity, especially in attack, was evident and the potential for improvement was enormous.

Having retained the Hillary Shield, both teams will now turn their attention to next Saturday at Eden Park, a stadium where the All Blacks have not lost since 1994.

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

One of the All Blacks’ best performers was Reece, who barely touched the ball in the second half but showed a different side to his game: a physical intensity in defence that helped pin England back into their own territory.

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

England captain Jamie George said: “We came here to win. We came here to achieve something that no England team has achieved in 21 years. At times we really dug in and we were in control of the game for long periods.”