They finally stood up to the haka but England still fell 32-22 to New Zealand in their Rugby League World Cup semi-final at Brisbane tonight.
The Kiwis made it clear they would not tolerate a repeat of last weekend’s “snub” when England opted to form a huddle during the haka before their last pool match.
The English duly stood side by side and looked New Zealand in the eye during the passionate pre-match ritual — but they quickly blinked.
The Englishmen played more like schoolboys with an error riddled performance — yet somehow still fought back from 16-0 down in the first half to cut the deficit to 28-22 in the final 10 minutes.
In the end, the Kiwis ran out six tries to four winners with centre Jerome Ropati bagging a double in front of a 26,659-strong Suncorp Stadium crowd.
New Zealand will not be able to show the same leniency in next Saturday night’s final at Brisbane, most certainly against world champions Australia who are expected to brush aside Fiji’s challenge in Sydney tomorrow.
England’s treatment of the haka wasn’t the only thing that had irked New Zealand in the match’s lead-up.
The Poms had been the masters of mind games in the countdown, refusing to confirm a team and snubbing the media at their final training run on match eve — again much to New Zealand’s annoyance.
The Kiwis appeared to take their frustration out on the butterfingered English tonight, jumping to 16-0 by the 22nd minute.
Then England appeared to flick a switch, scoring two tries in nine minutes including an absolute cracker to last-minute inclusion Danny McGuire in the 38th minute.
Lock Rob Purdham exploded from a scrum about 40m out and delivered a kick that surprised the Kiwis and sat up beautifully for McGuire to score.
After cruising at 16-0, a shellshocked New Zealand led by just 16-10 at halftime.
Normal service appeared to resume when New Zealand’s Bronson Harrison ran off Queensland-born halfback Nathan Fien in the 57th minute to make it 22-10.
But England hung in there — despite being their own worst enemies — to trade tries with the Kiwis.
By the time McGuire — who was not even named in the initial 19-man squad by crafty England coach Tony Smith – crashed over for his second try in the 73rd minute to make it 28-22 the Poms had a sniff.
But their night was summed up by New Zealand’s match-winning try.
Impressive pivot Benji Marshall pounced on a slip-up by England winger Ade Gardner to stroll over the line in the 78th and book another Cup decider with their nemesis Australia.
It ended a woeful Cup campaign for England.
They managed just one win — a hardly convincing 10 point victory over minnows PNG — and three losses, including a Cup record 52-4 drubbing at the hands of Australia.