What a monumental game of International Rugby we have witnessed. A game where an England pack displayed intensity, heart, solidarity and dynamism as opposed to an All Blacks side who took the game out wide with characteristic and clinical intent. It was a feast of tries and a display of extraordinary intensity. There is little to be disheartened by and a lot to be joyful about from an England perspective. From Hansen’s and a New Zealanders outlook, they have not only won 13 on the bounce, but they have shown grit, ruthlessness and championed their rugby style with boundless success. The mighty shame was that 100th Cap, Fly Half legend, Dan Carter could only manage 25 minutes. It’s a strange feeling when as a hard-core supporter, you come away from a game delighted and in awe of a mesmerising display when your team have lost.
The match itself engulfed every technique, tactic and historic moment that characterised these two sides. The story of how one of the sports greatest players in Dan Carter, suffered another injury at a critical, unfortunate time. The story of how England never quite played the perfect 80, yet, in parts, played mighty and compelling ‘footy’. The story of a New Zealand side who were lavish in the midfield and clinical on the flank. A narrative of how these two sides perhaps, can produce some of the best Test Match rugby ever seen! What was even more of a talking point in terms of individual brilliance and legendary status was the performances of Kieran Read and Mike Brown especially.
The First Half was a see-saw in emotions for both teams. New Zealand, renowned for their attacking prowess, managed to score early after an imperious offload from Read who assisted Savea in his first Try of the game. Tactically, there were a few scares for England early on. Even though their line speed was pressurising the halfback partnership, the need for the Winger to sweep closely behind was obvious when Carter manufactured an intelligent little chip over the top. Another worry was England’s midfield, where effort was obvious, yet chemistry and execution was severely lacking. Tomkins is yet to have a positive impact, whilst Twelvetrees did show signs of International pedigree. As the half progressed and England’s superior carrying game allowed them to maintain go forward and continuity, with the likes of Hartley, Vunipola and Lawes allowing England to pressurise the New Zealand defence and eventually force them in to giving away a collection of Penalties. Joe Launchbury’s try was the epitome of England’s performance on the day. They were committed and pushed the All Blacks pack time and time again, which was further enabled from the solid refereeing of Craig Joubert.
After Farrell plugged away with his accurate right peg, England demonstrated fantastic awareness around the fringes and didn’t allow the likes of Woodcock, Messam and Whitelock to make vital metres in the tight. Every England forward made tackles, contested at the Ruck and ultimately slowed the attacking platform down and pressurised Aaron Smith. A few promising attacks for England went amiss as Ashton put an unnecessary grubber through. However, one of the most influential parts to England’s game once again was the Scrum, which many fans including myself had been worried about pre-match, after Corbisiero and Vunipola had been ruled out. Yet, Marler held his own supported by Hartley and Cole, who reminded critics of why he is a British & Irish Lion. Correspondingly, Hartley and co. confidently went about their job at the Lineout quite tremendously, thus putting the New Zealand pack under even more tension.
New Zealand, now with Cruden at the pivotal 10 position, started to regain possession and challenge England out wide with both Savea, Piutau and Dagg looking sharp. With the first half coming to a close, the score favoured the All Blacks, 20-16.
The second half was just as intriguing as the first. Hartley was forced to leave the turf around the 50th minute and that immediately pressurised England’s Lineout with Tom Youngs’ struggling to hit his man. New Zealand pretty much secured the result soon after as Piutau’s primary attack, that was stemmed by the enigmatic Mike Brown, led to a superb running line from Nonu that drew in two defenders and his subsequent offload put Savea over for his 18th International Try. After continued attacks from both teams that created a free-flowing, highly intense game of rugby, it was evident England were starting to tire. Despite this, Twelvetrees was beginning to make valued metres in the midfield and Parling added a solid, intelligent spark that benefited England on the odd occasion. However, brilliant jackling from Read and further booming kicks from Israel Dagg made for a final score of England 22-30 New Zealand.
What an inspired performance from England. We set out to do what was planned and carried it out with supreme effectiveness. New Zealand’s depth and quality, plus a superior midfield and wing combination gave them the winning edge.
1. Joe Marler-7- He Scrummaged superbly well and held his own against Franks. Defensively sound.
2. Dylan Hartley-9- Fantastic throwing into the Lineout and was again stand out in the loose. Secured his spot as England no.1!
3. Dan Cole-7- He is returning to a similar form he showed a few years back. Still not quite the player at ruck time, but gave Woodcock and Crockett a hard time.
4. Joe Launchbury-7- Bright future awaits. Took his try well and has every aspect of his game nailed down.
5. Courtney Lawes-8- Tackling machine. Carried ball, pressurised the boot of Carter and Cruden. He ensure New Zealand didn’t get crucial time on the ball.
6. Tom Wood-7- Didn’t do too much that was obvious but counter-rucked and maintained close support effectively. England need a player like Wood moving towards 2015!
7. Chris Robshaw-8- Similar day to Wood, yet his decision making and leadership enabled England to come close against one of the world’s greatest teams. I hope Lancaster maintains Robshaw at 7 and as Captain.
8. Billy Vunipola-8- My word, what a player he is becoming. Almost couldn’t fault him. He doesn’t always gain as much yardage as Morgan, but he definitely sucks in a mass of defenders. Another bright future.
9. Lee Dickson-6-Made too many mistakes and doesn’t posses the kicking ability of Youngs, however, he did keep the tempo up and was defensively, extraordinarily good.
10. Owen Farrell-6- His kicking, as usual, was accurate and kept us the team in it. However, his attacking game was slightly predictable and he didn’t click with Twelvetrees and Tomkins.
11. Ben Foden-7- Starting to like the stability and high ball prowess England have with Foden on the wing. He did everything soundly, however his kick after the mark did give England unnecessary trouble.
12. Billy Twelvetrees-7- Vital experience for Billy. Made plenty of hits, beat defenders and kicked long to put Dagg and co. on the back foot. Not on the same page as Farrell.
13. Joel Tomkins-5- I hate being critical, but he hasn’t made the desire impact Saracens fans especially were hoping for. Haven’t seen one offload or game-changing run. Will lose his place when Tuilagi returns.
14. Chris Ashton-5- Average day for Ashton. He did manage to make metres an carry ball, but again found himself in the midfield too often. His decision making and defence lets him down. Yarde or Wade will take precedent.
15. Mike Brown-10- Faultless. Sublime. Quality Full Back who is competing with the likes of Dagg, Folau and Halfpenny! Perhaps one of the best backs to come out of England since 2003 World Cup winners, on the form he has shown.
16. Tom Youngs-6
17. Matt Mullan- No time
18- David Wilson- No time
19. Geoff Parling-6
20. Ben Morgan-8
21. Ben Youngs-7
22. Toby Flood-7
23. Alex Goode- No time
Looking at what England offered today, I think this will be the team to compete for the RWC in 2015. A few changes will be made, however the squad as a whole needs vital time to mould and continue in this vain.
My starting XV for the RWC 2015-
1. Alex Corbisiero
2. Dylan Hartley
3. Dan Cole
4. Joe Launchbury
5. Courtney Lawes
6. Tom Wood
7. Chris Robshaw
8. Ben Morgan
9. Ben Youngs
10. Owen Farrell
11. Marland Yarde
12. Billy Twelvetrees
13. Manu Tuilagi
14. Ben Foden/Christian Wade (dependent on defensive improvement)
15. Mike Brown