Hapless England let slip a 16-point lead to go down 36-24 against New Zealand in their final Rugby League World Cup group match.
Kiwis mount storming comeback
Hapless England were left with more worries ahead of next week's World Cup semi-final with New Zealand after letting slip a 16-point lead to go down 36-24 against the same opponents in their final group match. Blockbusting winger Manu Vatuvei punished some slipshod defence on the right flank to score a record four tries as the Kiwis gained a psychological advantage ahead of next Saturday's first semi-final in Brisbane. Two tries in the first eight minutes from Mickey Higham and Rob Burrow gave England a dream start and they added others through Burrow and Martin Gleeson before the Kiwis struck back and finished the stronger side, scoring 28 unanswered points in the process. England looked to have recovered from last week's 52-4 humiliation at the hands of Australia when tries from Higham and Burrow gave them the lead. The big England following in the 15,145 crowd at Newcastle's Energy Australia Stadium were still celebrating after half an hour when further tries from Burrow and Gleeson, all converted by Rob Purdham, saw their side open up a 16-point lead. But the temporary loss of Paul Wellens caused untold disruption to England's defence and Paul Sykes, one of six new faces in Tony Smith's line-up, became a third fullback of the match before being finally withdrawn from the firing line. The introduction of substitute hooker Issac Luke rejuvenated the Kiwis and, with acting captain Benji Marshall and Lance Hohaia pulling the strings, they punished gaping holes in England's right-sided defence. Vatuvei was the chief beneficiary, going past Robbie Paul and Lesley Vainikolo's record of three tries in a World Cup match, while Hohaia and Jason Nightingale also touched down as New Zealand scored 28 points without reply. Smith had made no fewer than six changes for the game but he was left with yet more questions after another infuriating second-half collapse.