All Blacks’ Winning Run Ended By Rampant England
by Paul Cook –
They’ve threatened it in recent weeks but not even the most fervently patriotic England fan could have predicted a day like this. It wasn’t merely the fact that a previously misfiring side toppled the mighty All Blacks, it was the manner in which they did so, smashing New Zealand into submission and carving them open with incisive running, pinpoint passing and clinical execution. This was in no way a narrow or fortuitous victory for the Red Rose, it was a demolition job the like of which one very, very rarely sees exacted upon the torchbearers of world rugby.
Having held them scoreless for 42 minutes with a combination of brilliant defence, aggressive breakdown work, Owen Farrell’s boot and some good old fashioned sheer bloody mindedness, England responded to a quick-fire two try revival from the World champions by going firmly on the front foot and almost blowing the Twickenham roof off with three tries in 8 minutes. It broke both the All Blacks resistance and their winning habit. There was still time for the prolific Julian Savea to add to his burgeoning reputation with a third try – his second – for the visitors but the damage was already done. The final score of 38-21 was – as head coach Stuart Lancaster said afterwards – “unbelievable”.
The facts and figures around the result bear witness to it’s uniqueness; this was England’s first triumph over New Zealand since their World Cup winning year of 2003 and their biggest margin of victory over them in the process. It was the All Blacks’ first loss in 20 test matches and the first time in 14 years that they have been held scoreless at half-time. So, where on earth did this result come from?
Their first three games of this Autumn series had shown much positivity from an England side trying to redraw their traditional footprint on the game, moving away from the oft derided but heavily mimicked ‘field position and take the points’ pragmatism that was successful when they finally matured the right cattle for the job in 2003 and when used as a default position under fire in 2007 but more often than not left them a few rungs short when it came to facing the Southern Hemisphere giants.
The game has moved on and England had to move with it but while they certainly have more endeavour than previous incarnations and showed tantalising glimpses of an exciting future against Fiji, Australia and South Africa, their execution let them down in those crucial clutch plays in each game. I include Fiji because, despite racking up a 54-12 scoreline, better execution and composure would have seen them 20-30pts further down the road. Good teams punish.
The summation was that intent and desire to run the ball was one thing but until they perfected the art of patience under pressure and developed a killer instinct, they wouldn’t worry the big three, hence the general incredulity at Saturday’s performance. This time the spaces were perfectly contrived and the right lines were hit but most importantly, the passes stuck. The result laid down a significant marker, the challenge now is to build upon it but with scorelines of such magnitude, a new pressure arises. Knock-off the World champions by 17pts and the Six Nations, nay, the Grand Slam, should be handed to you on a silver platter – shouldn’t it?
Two years ago, Martin Johnson era England produced a performance of similar note and promise when they spanked Australia 35-18 at Twickenham, running the ball at will and delivering one of the best tries – scored by Chris Ashton – that the famous old stadium has ever witnessed. England must make sure that this is not another false dawn.
And what of the All Blacks? Their star cannot be diminished on the back of one bad day at the office, after all, all good things must come to an end. Were they guilty of having one foot on the plane home? Of underestimating England? Of complacency? Anyone who has spent time observing the way Steve Hansen and Richie McCaw go about their business would know that half-heartedness is not a part of their make-up and is not the pedigree of the champion side they have helped forge.
Fatigue could have been a factor, they are at the end of a long and arduous season which has involved an extended Tri-Nations (the Rugby Championship) and a collection of air miles that would make Richard Branson envious; or they may have come in slightly underdone (they haven’t exactly been tested on this trip, Italy roughing up a weakened XV for an hour in Rome their most exacting challenge) but no, the All Blacks don’t do complacency. And especially not when captain fantastic McCaw is playing his last game before a self imposed 6 month exile to recharge the batteries. They wanted to send him out on a high.
Could it be that we have been guilty of overblowing this New Zealand side? Of falsely deifying a team that has regularly despatched a Wallaby outfit severely cruelled by injuries and hampered by inner turmoil and the constant media scrutiny of their coach. Or a South Africa who are ranked second in the world but haven’t played like a side befitting that lofty position since the retirements of Victor Matfield and Fourie Du Preez et al? Heck, while we’re at it, the French should probably have won the World Cup Final!
No, no, we’re clutching at straws. What this may just be is the kick up the backside that even the greatest of greats need from time to time to go back to the drawing board and re-challenge themselves. Complacency is sometimes inevitable when you’re that far ahead of everyone else. Rest assured, normality will be restored in 2013, the All Blacks will once again dominate – even ‘sans Sir Richie’ – because as the saying goes – ‘form is temporary, class is permanent.’