LONDON, ENGLAND/AUCKLAND, NZ – While it wasn’t the deluge of points some pundits predicted, it was a deluge of a different kind in at Twickenham, where the All Blacks ground out a solid win over an understrength England side. England, buoyed on by a crowd of over 82,000, defied predictions to score early but it was the visitors who notched up win number five in a row over the old country. Rugby Wrap Up is coming at you from both sides of the pitch with the match review, European expert Nicholas Hall gives us his take on the English performance while Super Rugby Superman Jamie Wall reports on the All Blacks.
All Blacks 24 (Aaron Cruden, Charlie Faumuina, Richie McCaw tries, Cruden 2 pen, Beauden Barrett pen) England 21 (Jonny May try, penalty try, Owen Farrell 3 pen, George Ford con)
After Owen Farrell had got the game underway, the All Blacks signaled their intentions early, with Sonny Bill Williams finding Kieran Read with a back-flick pass off the first phase. After a couple of minutes of probing, the All Blacks did eventually kick, but they immediately wished they hadn’t as maligned winger Jonny May scored one of the best tries you’ll see this year. May received the ball on the halfway line and left Conrad Smith for dead before breezing past a woeful attempt by Israel Dagg to score in the corner. Stung by this, the All Blacks retained possession off the kick-off and began a methodical series of phases that culminated in Jerome Kaino brushing off some English defense to set up a ruck a metre out from the try line. From there Aaron Cruden ran a perfect line back against the traffic to score. Replays seemed to suggest that he grounded the ball short but ref Nigel Owens decided he had the best view and awarded it without going upstairs. It wouldn’t be the last time Owens would be the topic of conversation. The rest of the first half saw England go from strength to strength, out-muscling the All Blacks in the tight and surprisingly disrupting their set-piece. The visitors were their own worst enemies at times with some very poor kicking and option-taking, but it was the tenacity of the English defense that forced this. Cruden and Farrell traded penalties and the halftime score read 14-11 to the English.
The very loud crowd would’ve been hoping for a continuance of the English fight in the second half, but sadly for them it was not to be. The All Blacks had their ‘ruthless’ switch flicked on in the changing rooms and, just the like the weather, their demeanor became very dark. Cruden kicked them into the lead for the first time as the forwards found renewed confidence against the English pack that had pushed them around for the first 40. Key to the turnaround was replacement lock Patrick Tuipolotu, who had come on for Brodie Rettalick. Conversely, English replacement lock George Kruis had spent the first half time terrorizing his All Blacks after getting called in early to replace Courtney Lawes. Again Kieran Read showed his class by sending Owen Franks up the middle of the park with a perfectly timed pass. From there, the ball was quickly spread wide to Dagg, who threw a horrible pass that Richie McCaw showed a lot of composure to hang on to and score. By now the first half was seeming like a distant memory for England as the All Blacks held an almost complete territory and possession advantage. Even the strange circumstances that led to Dane Coles getting sinbinned (read below) couldn’t slow down the visitors, who piled on phase after phase for Charlie Faumuina to score and effectively end the contest. What will probably go down as a statistical oddity more than anything else occurred when the English pack finally got their act together and drew a penalty try to close the gap back up the three with a minute to play. But they’d left their run far too late and even though the final scoreline was somewhat flattering, England gave the All Blacks plenty to think about.
Where the game was won: New Zealand put the match away during the ten minute sin bin period. They totally controlled the match during their stint a man down, in a truly impressive display. Steve Hansen has made his opinion of the TMO clear, but it is equally clear that Dane Coles should have been sin binned for his kick-out at Dylan Hartley. England continue to take comfort from how closely they are playing the world champions, but New Zealand were far from their best, particularly in the area of goal kicking. Aaron Cruden may need some permanent recalibrations, and his last shank demonstrated that he is suffering from some confidence issues. Though Beauden Barrett was able to put a horrendous penalty miss behind him, his first kick was a disaster that could have cost the All Blacks dearly.
Where the game was lost: Chris Robshaw has been an excellent captain and had a generally good match at flanker. However, this is the second time in three years that he has made some questionable time management decisions in the last five minutes of a home test against a Southern Hemisphere power. Someone needs to sit down with him and run through scenarios. With five minutes left, going for three scrums did eventually result in a penalty try, but with England’s maul dominance, it is easy to imagine that they could have driven over in the 75th, rather than waste four minutes re-setting. England’s lack of clinical finishing cost them once more, and though the gap between New Zealand and England is razor thin at the moment (at least at Twickenham), they clearly need a little something extra.
The old ‘game of two halves adage was never truer than in this game, at least from the All Blacks point of view. Maybe it was their new jerseys, but their sluggish start very much looked like a team that felt constricted and under pressure in the first half. Passes were dropped, gaps were missed and the kicking game was inaccurate to the point of providing May with his opening try. Who’s to blame for this? It’d be easy to point the finger at Cruden, he won’t look back on this test with any fond memories. Perhaps his confidence is shot as he doesn’t seem to have repaired his goal kicking radar, he only landed 2 from 5 and sprayed the attempted conversion of McCaw’s try embarrassingly wide. If it makes him feel any better, Beauden Barrett didn’t exactly cover himself in glory off the tee either, missing two sitters in the dying stages that would’ve made the lead a little more comfortable. All the while Dan Carter, the world’s highest paid water boy, sat back and watched. By full time it would have dawned on him that this tour and the potential opportunities that it has for next season are now heavily weighted in his favour, given that the All Blacks now have two gimme tests against weak opposition where he can ease his rested up body back into and look like the star we all know he is.
Players who could hold their heads up after full time were definitely McCaw, Kaino and Tuipolotu. Kaino’s tackling in the first half was immense and stopped England capitalizing on their fast start. McCaw was immense as always and was well rewarded with a try, one crucial turnover in the second half when England threatened was probably the moment that the game slipped out of the home side’s grasp for good. Tuipolotu made the most of some bonus time on the pitch by doing the hard work and providing the hit of the match when he smashed Billy Vunipola.
The biggest talking point coming out of this test is unfortunately the performance of ref Nigel Owens, who made a few questionable calls and seemed to have been influenced by the reaction of the crowd in a couple of them. In Owen’s defense, I felt the 50/50 calls he made were more a sign of the vagaries of the laws of the game than anything he was doing. In all it seemed that his reputation as the top ref in the game counted against him as he, like more than a few players on the field, simply had an off day. However, the incident involving Coles being binned will definitely come into question as he overruled the advice of the TMO. Also his second guessing of Faumuina’s try after howls of protest from the crowd (due to a deceptive camera angle) was not a good look.
Man of the match: Jerome Kaino was only on the field for the first 50 minutes but laid the defensive groundwork for the All Blacks to go on and triumph. It’s hard to believe that he’s only been back in NZ rugby for under a season.
Try of the match: Even though he looks like Mr. Bean and his celebration looked like something you might find an awkward teenage boy doing when the girl he likes finally texts him back, Jonny May showed incredible pace to score a classic test match try. He made the renowned defender Conrad Smith look silly and Israel Dagg look even worse on a weaving run to the try line.
Moment of the match: While Dane Coles was foolish to lash out at Dylan Hartley’s aggravation and Nigel Owens was foolish to make far more of an issue of it than necessary, the English were made to look even more so than both of them for not cashing in on the one-man advantage. The All Blacks even got away with Aaron Smith having to throw the ball into the line out on their way to holding on to the ball for the entire duration of the sinbinning.
Twickenham will again be the scene of another big match next weekend when the Springboks will be in town to try and get back on track after a shock loss to Ireland. Meanwhile the All Blacks have a slightly more sedate task when they travel to Murrayfield to take care of Scotland in the penultimate test of the season.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.