England were not far off the All Blacks on Saturday, but one essence of a great team proved to be the defining difference between the two sides. The All Blacks trust each other absolutely both in attack and defence. This England squad has yet to find that bond. They are getting there, but the trust broke down on several occasions on Saturday and it cost the home side the game.
The first All Blacks try was an immediate example of how much further the All Blacks are in their development. As the All Blacks moved the ball from right to left, Richie McCaw did not give one of the great passes of his career. Almost every rugby player on the planet would have reached for the ball and fumbled it or hung on and been smashed to ground by the rushing Joe Marler.
Dan Carter instinctively knew what was on and withdrew his hands. He kept the moment alive by doing nothing and trusting his mate Kieran Read to pick up a difficult ball. In turn Julian Savea trusted Read enough to come in off his wing in the hope that Read could produce some magic.
The England defence did not trust each other. Chris Ashton went in on Read and then Billy Vunipola followed up in order to bundle Read over the touchline. The catastrophic final intervention was Lee Dickson’s. The scrum-half had to cover the inside man, but instead he also piled in on Read. He did not trust his mates. The number eight got his pass away and Savea scored unopposed.
The second New Zealand try was again initiated by a lack of trust. England should know by now what a good passer Brodie Retallick is. The rangy lock has put enough people in for tries this season. But when he ranged up in midfield Owen Farrell, Courtney Lawes, Dan Cole and Dylan Hartley all went in for the tackle.
The swarm allowed Owen Franks to receive Retallick’s pass and to run through a hole unopposed. Perhaps the most guilty – and he had a magnificent game otherwise – was Hartley, who turned in from the outside, instead of trusting his inside defence. But once the breach was made, Read was able to get away for the All Blacks’ second try.
New Zealand’s third try was the most marginal in terms of picking England up on a lack of trust. Ma’a Nonu was certainly threatening to get on the outside of Ben Morgan. It was understandable that Lawes, another England player who had a big game, felt that he had to help in the tackle and on another day his intervention may have been enough.
It was part of an all action performance, but if Lawes had held and blocked the route to Savea, maybe England would have had a better chance. It’s marginal and maybe that instance is more a judgement call than a lack of trust.
But the first two New Zealand tries were scored because too many England defenders went in on a tackle. The All Blacks do not go in to help Dan Carter when Billy Vunipola is running down the barrel at him. They trust each other to make the tackle. They hold their shape.
Trust is a huge part of any coach’s education. His players have to trust each other. At the end of Robbie Deans’s tenure there was a manifest lack of trust in the Australia squad. Deans lost faith with his playmaker, if he ever had it, and the players lost trust in their coach.
Ewen Mckenzie is trying to rebuild that trust. One of the reasons that he has just suspended six of his squad for going out on the lash, is that players have to trust each other on and off the pitch to do the right thing.
Stuart Lancaster has been trying to create the same trust in the England squad. It’s growing, but against the best in the world it isn’t quite there yet. If it’s an issue for Lancaster, then it’s an issue for all of us, whatever level we coach or play at.