England's Sam Underhill was denied a late and potentially match-winning try as world champions New Zealand came from 15-0 down to win 16-15 at a rainswept Twickenham on Saturday.
Just four minutes remained when England thought they were about to record just an eighth win in 41 Tests against the All Blacks when Courtney Lawes charged down replacement TJ Perenara's kick and Underhill, weaving his way past Beauden Barrett, crossed.
But French referee Jerome Garces, after consulting South African television match official Marius Jonker, decided Lawes had been marginally offside and disallowed the score to the dismay of a capacity Twickenham crowd of over 82,000.
Though it came a week after a friendly call helped them beat South Africa, the contentious refereeing call caused huge debate and anger among England fans.
Former referee Jonathan Kaplan said in a newspaper column that the refereeing team had got the decision wrong.
Some very pertinent observations. Here— Mick Cleary (@MickClearyTel) November 10, 2018
Garces had allowed the try.
Should not be overturned unless clear and obvious
It was not clear and obvious.
Ludicrous that such a spectacle decided on such fine-line judgements https://t.co/Y43ESdqEb6
New Zealand had earlier recovered from the shock of England's impressive start to be just five points down at half-time thanks to fullback Damian McKenzie's converted try and a Barrett penalty.
Fly-half Barrett's second-half drop-goal and penalty then proved the decisive scores in what was the first England-New Zealand clash for four years - and one that took place fewer than 12 months out from the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
It took England, fresh from an unconvincing and try-less 12-11 home win over South Africa last weekend, fewer than two minutes to score the first try.England co-captain Farrell's well-judged kick-off, which allowed his chasers to compete for the ball in the air, was knocked on by New Zealand lock Brodie Retallick.
England's ensuing scrum was solid, with forwards Kyle Sinckler and Maro Itoje then leading the charge into the All Blacks' 22-metre area.
Scrum-half Ben Youngs's floated cut-out pass then found Ashton who, taking advantage of some inexplicably slack marking, used the wet turf to slide in at the right corner rather than celebrate with his customary 'Ash splash'.
It was a stunning way for the Sale wing to mark his first England start in four years and his 20th try in 41 career Tests.
Farrell saw a difficult touchline conversion hit the right post but, with England dominating territory, the fly-half extended the lead to 8-0 with a 10th-minute drop-goal.
Long-range kick specialist Elliot Daly's penalty then set-up a line-out just 10 metres from the New Zealand try-line.
England won their own ball and a powerful driving maul saw co-captainHartley, their New Zealand-born hooker, driven over for a 24th-minute try by the posts.
Farrell added the simple conversion and England, against all expectations, led 15-0.
By this stage openside flanker Underhill, recalled in place of the injured Tom Curry had already made a number of important tackles.
England were playing classic wet-weather rugby.
But mistakes towards the end of the first half cost them dear.
They allowed McKenzie to make ground after missing a couple of first-up tackles, with England wing Jonny May eventually penalised for offside as he intercepted a pass.
The All Blacks declined a kickable penalty to opt for a scrum 12 metres out.
Their set piece was solid and Barrett's clever inside pass allowed the onrushing McKenzie to go over on the cutback for a 39th-minute try that
Barrett duly converted.
With barely a minute left in the half, Farrell then carelessly kicked the re-start directly into touch, allowing New Zealand a scrum on the half-way line.
The All Blacks gained field position off the set piece and further England ill-discpline allowed Barrett to knock over a penalty in front of the posts.
New Zealand nearly caught England cold right at the start of the second half after a jinking McKenzie sliced his way through before linking with Ben Smith and Aaron Smith only for wing Rieko Ioane to drop the scrum-half's pass when a try was in sight.
But they did cut England's lead to two points when Barrett landed a drop-goal - his first at this level.
As so often, New Zealand weathered both the conditions and their opponents' impressive early start, with Barrett's penalty on the hour giving them a one-point lead that turned out to be just enough.
England coach Eddie Jones was upbeat after the loss, with the 2019 World Cup in Japan on the horizon.
Jones said: "I thought we played the final 20 (minutes) exceptionally well."
"If you look at any sort of metrics in the last 20, we won that final 20," the Australian added. "We'll take enormous confidence from that.
"The All Blacks, sorry New Zealand, generally run away from teams in that area and they couldn't break us," said Jones, whose side had launched their November campaign with an unconvincing -- and try-less -- 12-11 win at home to South Africa last weekend.
"In fact, we finished stronger. If we'd kept going for another five minutes, we would've got them. We're excited about where we're going."
Reflecting on the match as a whole, former Australia and Japan coach Jones said: "We're obviously devastated. We had opportunities to win the game, we didn't take them, they did.
"They deserved to win the game. Full credit to New Zealand."
As for Garces deciding to disallow Underhill's try, Jones said: "I don't comment on those decisions...Sometimes the game loves you and sometimes the game doesn't love you.
"You've got to accept if you stay in the fight long enough, the game will love you.
"And we're prepared to stay in the game."
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen praised Garces for being "brave enough" to ignore the roars of the crowd.
"There was no doubt he (Lawes) is offside. He's just about in the half-back's (scrum-half's) back pocket.
"What was going through my mind was are they (the officials) going to be brave enough to make the right decision? And they were. It's good."
Hansen added: "I thought England were very, very good and I thought we showed a lot of character. To be down 15-nil, in a hostile environment in front of 80,000 people, 79,999 of them not being Kiwis, and the weather conditions. It wasn't conducive to playing razzle-dazzle rugby."
Tries: Ashton, Hartley
All Blacks 16
Pens: Barrett 3