England 26 New Zealand 12

England celebrate during the International Test Series match

England celebrate during the International Test Series match

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CAPTAIN Sean O’Loughlin powered over to seal a gutsy England win - and send hopes of a series victory soaring.

Having battled back from 10-0 down to take a 20-12 lead, the game remained in the balance heading into the final five minutes.

But O’Loughlin eased any fears of a late Kiwi comeback when he brushed beyond Adam Blair to touch down.

It secured England’s first victory over New Zealand since 2011, and sent the Kiwis crashing to their first defeat in six Tests over the past 12 months - an impressive run which included three victories over Australia.

If England were quite fortunate to head in at half-time with the scoreline locked 12-12, they improved as the game unfolded.

And as the Kiwis faltered and fumbled in the second-half, England grew strength. Tom Burgess frequently punched holes through the Kiwis, they held their discipline and looked the more composed of the two sides.

Earlier, a favourable video refereeing call and some touches of quality from George Williams helped keep the game in the balance when the Kiwis threatened to take a commanding lead.

Indeed, Williams justified his selection with an all-round bright display on the right side, with nice passes for both of their first-half tries and a solid kicking game.

As expected, Steve McNamara ran with the same team which beat France comprehensively the week earlier. That meant starts for three England newcomers from Wigan - Joe Burgess, John Bateman and Williams - as well as Liam Farrell and O’Loughlin.

A lights show, national anthems and the Kiwis’ traditional Haka - captured by a thousand smartphones - set the mood for an epic contest on a mild night in Hull.

England went into the game with the unaccustomed tag as favourites - owing to the Kiwis’ high-profile absences, particularly at halfback. But it was the tourists who struck first blood when Tohu Harris finished a sweeping move to the left.

Some unforgiving shots punctuated the exchanges - Bateman seemed to enjoy a centre duel with Dean Whare - but England looked nervy.

The Kiwis, by contrast, were composed and - when Chris Hill’s charge down gifted them a repeat set - it provided the position for Sam Moa to carve through a poor England defence.

At 10-0 down, some England fans could have been forgiven for fearing the worst.

But to their credit they continued to improve before the break, posting two tries of their own - sandwiching an Issac Luke penalty when O’Loughlin was punished for stripping the ball.

Williams was involved in both tries.

First, a sharp pass released Elliot Whitehead, and his offload pinballed into the arms of Josh Hodgson, who darted over.

And after Tuivasa-Sheck streaked through for Kahu to cross, which was harshly ruled out by the video officials for obstruction, Huddersfield’s Brett Ferres charged onto Williams’ perfectly-weighted ball to storm over.

Gareth Widdop’s second conversion levelled the scores in the 35th minute.

A Widdop penalty nudged England ahead for the first time in the game in the 45th minute. Both sides showed signs of rust and fatigue but, after Sam Moa was placed on report for a shot on the excellent James Roby which forced him from the field, Ferres powered over for his second of the day - and fifth try in two games.

At 20-12 entering the final quarter, England sensed a golden chance to go 1-0 up in the series and only some last-gasp defending prevented them from extending their lead.

History had taught English fans to prepare to have their hearts broken, but McNamara’s men held their nerve, and O’Loughlin added the crowning glory to an ultimately-deserved and confidence-boosting opening Test win.

The series moves to London’s Olympic Stadium next Saturday before concluding at Wigan the following week.

England: Hardaker; Burgess, Bateman, Watkins, Hall; Widdop, Williams; Graham, Hodgson, Hill, Whitehead, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Subs: Roby, Burgess, Cooper, Ferres.

New Zealand: Tuivasa-Sheck; Nightingale, Kahu, Whare, Kenny-Dowall; Hiku, Lolohea; Bromwich, Luke, Moa, Proctor, Harris, Blair. Subs: Nikorima, Paupau, Matulino, Taukeiaho.

Half-time: 12-12.

Attendance: 23,526