New Zealand rugby writer Scott Donaldson gives his view on the All Blacks win over England in the first test.
The All Blacks escaped with an unimpressive 20-15 victory over a determined yet understrength England side.
Aaron Cruden’s controversial decision to turn down a kickable penalty in the 76th minute and tap and go instead paid off, eventually. Conrad Smith scored a try in the corner, to give the All Blacks a 20-15 lead that they never relinquished.
Was the All Blacks win over England, good luck or good management?
England really took the game to the rusty All Blacks and the two teams kept kicking away lots of possession. This frustrated me as both teams now have enough exciting ball carrying players, but maybe it was a sign of a lack of confidence or a lack of faith in the enigmatic referee Nigel Owens.
This England team wasn’t at full strength, but included several of their top players. Coach Stuart Lancaster seems to have developed a squad with plenty of depth and they now have some genuinely dangerous big ball running players to match the All Blacks.
The All Blacks made uncharacteristic errors. Players like Israel Dagg and Ben Smith who are usually consistent started making uncharacteristic errors as the All Blacks struggled to get position at the right end of the field. The longer England kept the All Blacks tryless, the more it seemed to frustrate the men in black.
Initially, I thought Aaron Cruden should have taken the three points, given that the kick would have given the All Blacks a three point lead, but full credit to Cruden in the end as the All Blacks showed that they have the ability to win games without playing at their best.
Some controversy in the aftermath of this match is why debutant Malakai Fekitoa wasn’t yellow carded for a potential professional foul on his own try line, while England wing Marland Yarde was yellow carded later in the second half for a professional foul. Both infringements potentially avoided a try being scored.
I was impressed with the England loose forwards who I felt outmuscled the All Blacks at times. Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw and James Haskell were very physical. The England midfield pairing of Manu Tuilagi and Kyle Eastmond kept the All Blacks on their toes.
Why did TJ Perenara kick the ball back to England with one minute remaining and give them a last chance at scoring? Luckily England didn’t score, but surely they should have just kept the ball in hand in close quarters for the final minute.
Both coaches now have plenty of dilemmas going into the second test match between these two teams. Lancaster must now decide how many newly available players from the Aviva Premiership final he will introduce into his team for the second test, while All Blacks coach Steve Hansen must be wondering whether the unusually high amount of mistakes were caused by overall rustiness or if some players like Aaron Cruden, need to be dropped for the second test or if they will come right.
It must be said, that in the past, the All Blacks used to play a second tier nation in their first game of the season and so it wouldn’t make as much of a difference if they played badly, or not. These days it is straight into playing against an exciting England team.
The second test between the All Blacks and England will be interesting. I think that the All Blacks have a lot of improvement left in them, while England played close to their best given the players they had. The new players may bring some improvement with them. The second test will be a beauty.
This England team is young and has the ability to only get better with the reinforcements and with experience. They will be tough to beat as the hosts of the Rugby World Cup 2015.