Who saw that coming? I have been one of the more supportive voices in England's favour over the last few weeks but I never saw them beating New Zealand. The criticism levelled at Stuart Lancaster and his players over the previous two weeks was not a true reflection of their worth. Equally, as incredible as Saturday's performance was, England are not all of a sudden miles ahead of everybody else. Lancaster will be well aware of that and so will the players.
They will take that performance for what it was; a stunning success for a well-committed and hungry young England team. Now they have to look to repeat that time after time – all the way to the World Cup.
This is one win out of three games, although England have grown into their performances and come together as a team. Now the players have to return to their clubs and re-focus as they immediately have a massive European weekend coming up. This is what the young England players will learn. You have to keep producing for your club until the Six Nations comes round and you are playing well enough to be selected.
That result though offers genuine hope England will be a force when the big tournaments come along. When the All Blacks came back to within a point most teams would have capitulated. But the self-belief was remarkable.
I was so excited and proud to be an England supporter on Saturday, particularly for what it meant to some former team-mates of mine. Take Tom Youngs. He has been one of the players of the autumn – to go from the centre to being an international-class hooker in the space of five years is remarkable.
England went into the autumn without a second-choice hooker of any substance. Now Youngs is putting real pressure on Dylan Hartley. That is indicative of one of the most positive features for Lancaster across the team, there is now real competition for places. Alex Goode can challenge Ben Foden at full-back for the Six Nations and beyond, and Mike Brown has to be considered too, either there or on the wing. Ben Youngs and Danny Care are nip and tuck at No 9, while Owen Farrell showed what he is about at 10. With Toby Flood to come back and then Freddie Burns and George Ford on the horizon. Outside the half-backs, Brad Barritt did an incredible job on Saturday but I don't see him as the long-term answer. Jonathan Joseph, and possibly Billy Twelvetrees, are good enough to eclipse him.
It was a huge game for Manu Tuilagi, who answered the doubters in terms of his all-round game. This is no bash-bash-bash merchant, he showed sleight of hand and a poacher's instinct too.
Up front the second and back rows have encouraging depth. Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling and Courtney Lawes will have a real tussle to start in the Six Nations. Add Tom Croft to Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw and Ben Morgan in the back-row battle and there's another area bolstered.
In the first half on Saturday, there were a number of missed chances to score a try – there are areas to work on but it's far easier doing it on the back of a win like this.
- More about:
- All Blacks
- Guinness Premiership
- Harlequin FC
- Harlequins (rugby)
- Mark Tucker
- Six Nations Rugby