A thrilling clash, described by victorious New Zealand captain Richie McCaw as “a hell of a Test match”, underlined the All Blacks’ class but England also emerged with immense credit having pushed the world’s best side all the way. But what decided the contest?
Red zone return
New Zealand’s ability to execute under pressure has long stood them apart from the rest of the world and that ruthless streak was evident again in this nail-biter. Match stats reveal that both sides made eight trips into the opposition 22 and while New Zealand came away with points on four occasions, England only did so once. The home side’s relatively low return is thanks largely to their bullish tactics in the first half as they chased the game and a crucial call from captain Chris Robshaw did eventually lead to a try and spark a tremendous and gutsy comeback that almost won them the game. But no side going against the All Blacks can afford to be so wasteful when handed such precious field position especially when your pack has worked so hard to earn it. England have a set of forwards at their disposal with the ability to strike fear into any of their rivals but they still do not have the game-breaking back division to compliment them or capitalise on any dominance up front.
The world’s best player?
New Zealand fly-half and reigning International Rugby Board Player of the Year Dan Carter rightly took centre stage ahead of the clash at Twickenham on the occasion of his 100th Test match appearance but it was the front runner for this year’s honour that dominated the game itself. All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read delivered yet another outstanding all-action display to propel his side to victory and bolster his claims to the title of the world’s best player. As impressive his match stats – a try, 45m with ball in hand, 11 tackles – they do not do him justice and not even a first half yellow card could tarnish his game. He has a priceless ability to read the game and this, along with his incredible work rate and skill, ensures he is a near-constant presence. His influence makes him a target for the opposition and he attracted the attention of England’s Chris Ashton, Billy Vunipola and Lee Dickson in the lead up to the opening try of the game but they were left dumbfounded, like the capacity crowd, as the Kiwi slipped a delightful scoring pass to winger Julian Savea. Read is just as devastating in defence with Tom Wood, Dan Cole and Courtney Lawes seen to almost bounce off their rival at just one of many bruising breakdown battles. Is there a better player in the game right now?
Hartley the beating heart?
Dan Carter was not the only player celebrating a career milestone with England hooker Dylan Hartley given the honour of leading the side out on his 50th international appearance. He celebrated with another rugged and tone-setting display and was at the heart of England’s comeback after they had gifted New Zealand a substantial lead. A typically brutal tackle on All Blacks flanker Richie McCaw brought a premature end to Hartley’s game and England appeared to lose their way in his absence. An otherwise formidable lineout began to creak with replacement hooker Tom Youngs failing to find his man on three occasions and the momentum that the ferocious England pack had worked so hard to generate began to dissipate. England’s bench has provided fresh impetus in recent weeks but in this instance it had the wrong kind of impact. England had the lead and the match within their grasp but their failure to maintain that effort offered New Zealand hope and they pounced with a game-clinching second score for Julian Savea.
Riders on the storm
Twelve months ago New Zealand were swept aside – or ‘donkey-licked’ as coach Steve Hansen recalled – by a rampant England side spearheaded by a warrior-like Tom Wood and a wrecking ball centre pairing of Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi that was sorely missing from this latest clash. The All Blacks had little answer to the onslaught and while this game was apparently not about revenge – at least publicly – there was a clear determination on the part of the visitors to ensure lightning did not strike twice. A relatively inexperienced England side, that clearly and with good cause does not fear the All Blacks, threw everything they had at New Zealand and that effort, bolstered by a vociferous Twickenham crowd that so often is not a factor, rocked their rivals – but no more. This All Blacks side is not just physically strong but also mentally strong having carved their way through the international calendar for the last few years. They push the game and the Laws to the limit to preserve their status and while England were good, they were just not good enough.
Keep them guessing
While an injury-ravaged England struggled to conjure opportunities with yet another scrappy score their only try of this contest, New Zealand continue to ooze class and creativity. The stage was set for All Blacks playmaker Dan Carter to steal the show and he certainly left his mark with one pin-point cross-kick to winger Charles Piutau and another delicate chip over the England defence that was gobbled up by centre Ben Smith – but injury brought a premature end to his game. However, the All Blacks are blessed with many players who can turn a game with one being veteran centre Ma’a Nonu. Behind but not beaten, the visitors sensed the game was still there to be won and hammered a tiring England midway through the second half. They stretched them one way and then the other, peppering the defence with a hypnotic blend of power, pace and guile. Piutau went close in one corner – denied by an excellent tackle from Mike Brown – but the All Blacks did not dwell on the setback with the ball immediately worked wide again with Nonu’s eventual sublime offload to winger Julian Savea for the All Blacks’ second try the decisive moment of the game. While New Zealand appear to have such talent on tap, England’s well appears dry.
What did you make of the match? Where did New Zealand assert their superiority and where can England draw positives from the match? Comments below…