New Zealand 30
New Zealanders have long been accused of rewriting the rugby rulebook to suit their own purposes, but it is difficult to point the finger of accusation when they reinvent the entire philosophy of the game into the bargain. The England selectors fielded the strongest of three second-string sides last night and the forwards, in particular, gave as good as they got. But these All Blacks exist on the rare oxygen of adventure, not the commonplace lifeblood of possession.
Even though the final victory margin was unusually narrow - Jon Preston, the replacement scrum-half, was kicking for goal well into the final 10 minutes - the result was never seriously in doubt. They ran in four tries, including two absolute pearls in a second half that occasionally reached the heights of the Emerging England slaughter at Huddersfield a fortnight ago while England A had to be content with an injury-time breakaway try by Scott Benton, the Gloucester scrum-half.
The well-documented grandeur of this vintage All Black party had ensured a mighty sporting experience at all seven of the tourists' previous games but last night's atmosphere was something else again. Welford Road made the average sardine can seem positively spacious by comparison and when Carlos Spencer crouched low to lead the pre-match haka, he got short shrift from 14,000 East Midlanders with passion pumping through their veins.
Sure enough, the crackle among the multitude undermined the New Zealanders' customary swagger and both Spencer and Scott McLeod made uncharacteristic blunders with the boot in the opening minute. When Gordon Slater hit Spencer Brown with a tackle that was not merely high but stratospheric, Tim Stimpson gave his England team-mates a deserved early presence on the scoreboard with a straightforward penalty.
Sadly for the underdogs, that kick concentrated the All Black minds wonderfully. Within seconds, Mark Robinson and Mark Carter were within inches of an opening try following a stiletto-sharp raid down the left touchline and when, after nine minutes, Glen Osborne intelligently held the ball up for his loose forwards in the same area of the field, the muscular McLeod was quickly on the scene to step out of tackles by Mark Regan and David Sims and score near the posts.
Eight minutes later, the Blacks were in business once more. Spencer, mixing up his game quite brilliantly, put Stimpson in trouble in the right corner with a wicked diagonal kick and from the resulting line-out, Mark Cooksley took the cleanest of two-handed catches to allow Anton Oliver a textbook hooker's try. Yet again the tourists were showing an edge in attack that no English side had seemed remotely capable of matching.
Yet the England pack, spearheaded by Regan's exceptional commitment in the loose, Rory Jenkins' unusual strength on the stampede and some athletic work at the front of the line-out from Rob Fidler, did enough in the bump and grind to earn Stimpson five more shots at goal. He made the most of three of them between the 23rd and 40th minutes and by hook or by crook, the white shirts reached the interval at 12-12.
In the normal course of things, all square is no humiliation. The All Blacks are not normal, though, and they came out for the second half as though their very livelihoods were under threat. Almost from the restart, Todd Miller went close on the left before releasing high-quality possession and Tana Umaga's pace into the 22 on the opposite side of the field created the simplest of flop-overs for Charles Riechelmann. Spencer and Preston added penalties to give the Blacks a safety net - not that they needed it -and they finished in style when McLeod and Osborne created a superb late try for Umaga, who appeared on the "wrong" wing to hare over from 30 metres.
England: Try Benton; Conversion Stimpson; Penalties Stimpson 4. New Zealand: Tries McLeod, Oliver, Riechelmann, Umaga; Conversions Spencer 2; Penalties Spencer, Preston.
ENGLAND A: T Stimpson (Newcastle); S Brown (Richmond), S Potter (Leicester), M Allen (Northampton), A Adebayo (Bath); R Butland (Bath), S Benton (Gloucester); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bath), P Vickery, R Fidler, D Sims (all Gloucester), R Jenkins (Harlequins), B Clarke (Richmond, capt), P Sanderson (Sale). Replacements: V Ubogu (Bath) for Vickery, 61; R Winters (Bedford) for Jenkins, 64; M Mapletoft (Gloucester) for Butland, 73; N McCarthy (Gloucester) for Regan, 82.
NEW ZEALAND: T Miller (Waikato); T Umaga (Wellington), S McLeod (Waikato), A Ieremia (Wellington), G Osborne (North Harbour); C Spencer (Auckland), M Robinson (North Harbour); M Allen (Manawatu), A Oliver (Otago), G Slater (Taranaki), C Riechelmann (Auckland), M Cooksley (Waikato), T Blackadder (capt), S Surridge (both Canterbury), M Carter (Auckland).
Replacements: J Preston (Wellington) for Robinson, 29; A Blowers (Auckland) for Carter, h-t; A Hopa (Waikato) for Cooksley, 74.
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).
The Newcastle Falcons centre Alan Tait and Glasgow winger James Craig have withdrawn from the Scotland squad to face South Africa at Murrayfield on Saturday because of injury.Reuse content