I didn’t quite get to finish my piece about the second test in New Zealand and it all seems a bit too much after the event, so before I start my take on the final test I must write a little about where I watched the middle game. I’d booked myself 2 days at Lords to watch another of my passions, cricket which meant I needed to be in a bar to watch the rugby if I was to see it live. There was no choice on that one; it’s pretty much the law that in the absence of being at a live game I have to watch the action as it happens! What to do? Well Tweet of course! After a few exchanges I found myself standing outside the No1 Sports Bar in the City. I received a warm welcome, ordered myself a sublime bacon sandwich then watched the game in good, knowledgeable company. I most certainly will make more visits – I also felt slightly less freakish shouting at the screen in a room full of people!
And so to the final test – the big boy England team lined up to face the All Blacks having seen the young guns of the Under 20’s win the IRB Junior Final against a very strong South African team. Could they add a further win having run the All Blacks close in the previous 2 games? The All Blacks made a few changes with Kieran Read back in their ranks; he must surely rank as the top No 8 in the world! England saw several replacements in their starting lineup, with 2 key changes at 9 and 10, with Ben Youngs and Freddie Burns starting due to injury. The kick off from Burns was a marker of how the 1st half would go, with the kick not making the 10m line. England however won a penalty thanks to quick work by Ben Youngs as the All Blacks held the ball. Burns kicked from virtually in front of the posts but a long way out, he missed the posts. A 2nd error by England this time by Mike Brown gave the All Blacks a strong attacking position as he returned a good kick by Ma’s Nonu, he kicked the ball out, but he’d taken it back in to the 22. Lineout ball for the All Blacks on the 22 therefore. In spite of the ball being dumped onto the ground by Nonu as the ball made its way into midfield Aaron Smith combined with Ben Smith to send Julian Savea in to score his 1st try after only 3.5 minutes! The cover on the wing was conspicuously absent; Savea a strong man shrugged Mike Brown off. Aaron Cruden hit the posts with his kick.
Aaron Smith made a similar error to Mike Brown kicking the ball straight out after taking it into the 22; England spent what were to be a few solitary minutes in the All Blacks half. Aaron Smith ran in to the ruck from the side in a way that only someone hard of seeing could miss; this time Burns converted the penalty. It was disappointing to hear the booing as Burns kicked. The kick off saw Courtney Lawes taken into touch and the All Blacks moved the ball quickly across the pitch; Aaron Cruden made a great break followed by a superb pass to Julian Savea. Savea wrong footed Chris Ashton and Marland Yarde to score his 2nd try. Cruden converted to take the score to All Black 12 England 3. Julian Savea would have scored his hat trick try with less than 15 minutes on the clock as the All Blacks again targeted England’s’ open right wing; Ben Smith passed the ball forward however. Aaron Cruden added a penalty moments later as England held were penalised as they tried to halt the men in black. Richie McCaw was penalised for coming in at the side of the ruck as England managed a few minutes in the All Blacks half, Burns kicked successfully.
Billy Vunipola saw yellow to add to England’s’ woes as he was adjudged to tackle Aaron Cruden high. An unfortunate tackle by a bog man on a small man, the tackle was clumsy rather than malicious for me, but yellow it was. With Vunipola absent and a scrum near their own line Manu Tuilagi turned flanker to add his weight allowing Tom Wood to slot in at No 8 and allow Youngs to clear the ball. This is the point when I’m going to have my Stuart Barnes moan; Mike Brown made an error of judgement in trying to run the ball out after receiving a kick from Ben Smith, he was isolated and lost the ball. Goodness Barnes slated him for it! I’m presuming he was utterly perfect in his England career! A lack of space saw Burns kick the ball straight out sending the All Blacks back on the attack. This time they went for England’s left wing, this time seeing Corey Jane leaving Marland Yarde in his wake. Aaron Smith was the beneficiary this time; Cruden kicked from virtually the touch line adding the 3 points. The score stood at All Blacks 22 England 6 and the agony of the 1st half still had time to run. Ben Smith made up for his earlier blip throwing a dummy and stepping through the England defence, a neat little pass to Aaron Smith saw him score his 2nd try. Cruden with a much easier conversion took the score to its half time level of All Blacks 29 England 6.
The England defence had been found wanting in the 1st half in particular out wide; I’m not sure that any one player was deserving of more criticism than any other. But my concerns about Chris Ashton fitting into the England set up in the same way he does very successfully at Saracens had been confirmed. It had to be hoped that we weren’t looking at a cricket score at the end of the 80 minutes. Luther Burrell appeared in Kyle Eastmond’s place after half time in a bid to shore up the midfield I’m sure. England started with determination after Ben Youngs made a break from an offload by Joe Launchbury, he in turn passed to Manu Tuilagi who drove towards the line, he was stopped just short, but Marland Yarde was following in his wake; he picked up the ball and dived over the line. Just the start that England needed to restore some pride. Burns added the extras. England won a penalty after a cynical block by Richie McCaw as Corey Jane took a high kick. It has to be said as marvellous a player as McCaw clearly is it is a wonder that he hasn’t spent longer off the pitch in the bin. England won the lineout at Yarde backed himself to drive over the line; he was held up this time. A 5m scrum for England was wasted as the scrum was wheeled round turning the ball over to the All Blacks.
England had clearly come out of the dressing room with a determination to salvage some pride; Marland Yarde in particular showed a real determination as he wrestled with Ben Smith as he attacked after a Youngs kick. Chris Ashton missed a tackle as the play progressed; he has had an immense season in the black and red of Saracens but was really struggling in the white shirt. England’s defence however found its shape as the All Blacks set about a determined attack, Tom Wood was penalised for taking out McCaw off the ball and in spite of being virtually in front of the posts Beau Barrett kicked to touch. The All Blacks ignored an overlap as they moved the ball across the field and Savea knocked the ball on, England looked to make the most of the advantage but Dylan Hartley threw a dreadful pass to Ashton who had no choice other than to kick the ball out. Ashton may well have been away, instead the play was taken back for the scrum.
Danny Cipriani made an appearance on 60 minutes, I do wonder with his club form this season if he didn’t deserve more than a couple of cameo appearances. He adds some real flair to any back line. The All Blacks made a number of substitutions themselves including the 22 year old Malakai Fekitoa who had started the game filling the very big shoes of Conrad Smith; I have to say he coped admirably and will clearly be a star! In spite of some concerted pressure by England they weren’t to score again, but I suspect they learnt more about how they need to play against the Southern Hemisphere teams. This tour and pretty much every game from now on is all about building for the World Cup in 2015. I’d say that say that several players have put their names on their shirts, certainly for the Autumn Internationals at the very least. Julian Savea was to have the last word in spite of the fact Wyatt Crockett saw yellow and the end of his game after being on the pitch for only 12 minutes. With the clock on red the All Blacks attacked determined to finish in style Julian Savea took a great ball from Corey Jane to run into space and score. Beau Barrett added the extras. The score finished on New Zealand 36 England 13. I’m afraid I don’t agree with Stuart Barnes total pessimism at the end of the game, English rugby is growing in strength with lots of young talent lining up to make their names.