Lomu overwhelms England

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The Independent Online
STEVE BALE

reports from Cape Town

England 29 New Zealand 45

However you strike the analytical balance between English inadequacies and the magnificence of the All Blacks' total rugby makes no difference to the disagreeable reality that England's pre-match confidence was exposed as the merest pretension when they lost yesterday's World Cup semi-final at Newlands.

Patently, there are domestic issues to address arising out of this gallant - typically English, somehow - failure, and this has to do with an attitude of mind as much as the desire expressed by both Jack Rowell and Will Carling, manager-coach and captain, that England must play the leading countries of the rugby world more.

How often have we heard this refrain? Of itself, the Five Nations' Championship has been seen in this tournament to be inadequate as preparation to play New Zealand, since in the space of 22 days the All Blacks have trounced Ireland, Wales, Scotland and now England with so much to spare that in the end they have been able more or less to give up concentrating. This is not a normal All Black characteristic.

South Africa may fare better in next week's final at Ellis Park, but so clinical are Sean Fitzpatrick's team when it comes to nailing their chances that it is hard to imagine the wave of emotion that will transport the Springboks doing anything other than crashing harmlessly away.

In the way they have played their rugby throughout the World Cup and especially yesterday these All Blacks have showed just how negative - as opposed to the realism of which we hear - much of English thinking is. As Laurie Mains, the New Zealand coach, put it: "We deliberately wanted to show we weren't going to play conventional rugby."

This is a usefully general answer to a specific question about the reverse kick-off which sent the ball towards Jonah Lomu at the game's outset, less a statement of intent about how they intended to use Lomu than how they meant to play the entire game, by handling the ball as the best means of attack no matter where they were on the field.

The shattering effect was the first try by Lomu, running round Tony Underwood and Carling and straight through Mike Catt after 2min 10sec of irresistible rugby and another by Josh Kronfeld two minutes later. Andrew Mehrtens converted the second and once he had added a penalty and the No 8 Zinzan Brooke defied another convention by dropping a goal from 45 yards 19 minutes had elapsed and the contest was decided.

England had been locked as ever into the mind-set which decrees that the first option must be to kick and it was only later - much later - that the novel notion dawned that keeping the ball in hand might actually be more productive than kicking it away. For this All Black side running rugby is the first option; for England it has seemed, certainly here in the World Cup, to be a last resort.

Carling's contention that playing this tournament was essentially territorial, about the establishment of position, that therefore World Cup rugby was of necessity a matter of getting down there before anything tricky could be dared, was shown to be a solecism.

Much has been said but too little done since his team have been in South Africa, though Rowell was absolutely sincere when he said: "If you watch us training, the way we practise as a team involves all the players. It's not last-resort as far as we are concerned. We went in willing to play 15-man rugby from the start." This is how the manager wills it, but teaching old dogs new tricks that they will actually perform is quite another matter.

England eventually strutted their 15-man stuff in the second half, by which time the Blacks had added a second Lomu try, the behemoth pounding past Rob Andrew as if he was a fly to be swatted. Again Mehrtens converted. And though Andrew concluded the first-half scoring with a penalty, Lomu's third try followed the break by 59 seconds when Mehrtens kicked into space for Walter Little and Kronfeld to combine on the wing's behalf.

Next, Graeme Bachop started and finished a move which exposed another English myth about the efficacy of attacking from set scrums, or first phase - at which point this England side, the one who had won 10 internationals in a row and have been widely described here as the only side capable of beating these All Blacks, were threatened with the worst beating in English rugby history.

It was bad enough. Assisted by a change in scoring values, England conceded a record number of points. That it was not also a record margin of defeat, exceeding the 42-15 against New Zealand in 1985, was down to a stirring fightback which demonstrated how powerful a motivation impending humiliation can be.

The All Blacks' tendency to let their attention wander once a match is won had been exploited by the Scots and England went one better than the beaten quarter-finalists with four tries, all of them coming in a 22-minute rush that would have been astounding but for the unpleasant reality that by now New Zealand were already 32 points ahead.

Rory Underwood scored two to make his England tries' record 47, Carling the other two, and each of them was born not only of desperation but of the genuine running and handling ability in which England permit themselves to indulge all too seldom. One day, perhaps, they really will hit the ground running - to use the management argot - rather than standing there waiting for something to happen.

There was one last try by Lomu and a drop goal by Mehrtens and the curious thing was that the statistics showed England winning double their opponents' line-out ball as well, according to the official figures, as an extraordinary 52 pieces of loose possession compared with the All Blacks' 21.

Which only goes to show it is how you use it that counts. The penalty for Carling and his courageous colleagues was that last night they had to travel in despondency to Pretoria for the third-place match against France and not in anticipation to Johannesburg for the final against South Africa.

ENGLAND: M Catt (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogo (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath).

NEW ZEALAND: G Osborne (North Harbour); J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce, W Little (North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); A Mehrtens, G Bachop (Canterbury); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, R Brooke ( Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), M Brewer (Canterbury), Z Brooke (Auckland), J Kronfeld (Otago). Replacement: B Larsen (North Harbour) for Z Brooke, 64.

Referee: S Hilditch (Ireland).

More reports, Update, page 22

Leading article, page 16

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