Thirty-six hours on in the bleak light of the Monday morning after the Saturday afternoon before, it is still tempting to wallow in the euphoria of it all. Confronted by the sporting equivalent of the Black Death, the red rose army not only survived, but flourished. They were a revelation: passionate, fierce, vital, dynamic, vivacious. And that was only the crowd. The players were better than that. Far, far better.
Which is precisely why English rugby needs to catch the first space shuttle back to earth, re-establish a sense of perspective over the next two months of enforced quarantine and prepare itself for the next launch into the stratosphere of international competition. A sober, detached assessment of this staggering piece of 80-minute theatre will help Clive Woodward's team record what would be a hugely significant victory over the French in Paris on 7 February. Anything less and England will be back in the land of make-believe they last visited during that embarrassingly deluded lap of honour at Old Trafford a fortnight or so ago.
Yes, the new emotionalists of Twickenham saw England take a moon-step along the road to possible World Cup glory at the weekend; yes, Clive Woodward can now proceed in the knowledge that his visions and theories are the stuff of hard reality rather than science fiction. But when all is said and done, England drew a match they should have won against a side not so much on its knees after 10 months of relentless activity, but flat on its back.
Woodward is a sufficiently smart cookie to know that his side caught the All Blacks in a rum old mood. It is not often that the New Zealand mind- set slips out of kilter but on Saturday, there was a hint of the cavalier about the tourists, just a suggestion that they had made the fundamental error of believing their own publicity. The rugby they played in the opening half-hour contained at least four capital crimes and when the perpetrators finally appear before Judge John Hart to answer for their sins, they would do well to come clean and ask for another dozen offences to be taken into consideration.
To see Zinzan Brooke and Frank Bunce, two of the three most experienced All Blacks on view, gifting early tries to David Rees and Lawrence Dallaglio was seriously disconcerting, and even when New Zealand settled down and applied themselves to the task of overturning a 20-3 first-quarter deficit, they continued to perform as though they were auditioning for a Brian Rix farce. Christian Cullen, Walter Little and the extraordinarily gifted Taine Randell all managed to make a hash of stroll-over scoring opportunities before the break while Justin Marshall's inability to distinguish between an overlap and a pair of overalls cost his side no end of points.
"We butchered five or six clear chances and there are absolutely no excuses," said Hart, the New Zealand coach, as he pondered the peculiarities of a game that ended his hopes of presiding over an unprecedented 12th straight Test victory inside a calendar year. "We played poorly, England played really well. I suppose the draw was a fair result; England wouldn't have wanted to lose from 23-9 up at half-time while our comeback at the end of a tough year was exceptionally good. But as far as we're concerned, it was a bad day at the office."
Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? Actually, there was nothing of the smart-aleck Aucklander about Hart's response. Anything but, in fact. The most successful coach-cum-strategist-cum-man-manager of recent times was genuinely impressed by New England. "I can say it's the best I've ever seen you play because I've never seen you play that way before," he enthused. "To my mind, Clive Woodward is encouraging a style of play that will produce results. I hope he gets the support he deserves because he understands that the game can open up very easily for a team prepared to back itself and play some football."
When Woodward views the video of this momentous Twickenham occasion - and he will be quite justified in watching it ad nauseam - he will take enormous encouragement from three particular aspects. The first and most tangible of them, was England's second try, scored after nine minutes by the outstanding Richard Hill, but created, quite beautifully, by Paul Grayson, Austin Healey and Will Greenwood. "Paul had the bottle to stand up there among the bullets and fire out some passes," said the coach. "It was just what we were looking for from him because by doing that, he brought everyone else into the game."
Secondly, England now know they possess a footballing back row of undisputed world class. If Hill was sensational on Saturday - good enough to produce a try-saving tackle on Norm Hewitt at one end before giving the fast- retreating Jeff Wilson a serious dose of the heebie-jeebies at the other - Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back were scarcely less effective. Their collective expertise meant that Randell had to perform a whole range of heroics to keep the tourists at the races early on, while Josh Kronfeld was press-ganged into one of the most accomplished 40 minutes of his career after the interval.
And the third bonus? The raw spirit that allowed England to spend 30 second-half minutes on the ropes, dust themselves down and tear into the last 10 with a ferocity so conspicuous by its absence against the Springboks seven days previously. Roger Uttley, the manager, was right when he compared an epic finale to the conclusion of a perfectly matched prize-fight.
"The sides were like two punch-drunk boxers," he said. "They'd worn each other out and you could see the strength draining away from them, but they were still trying things, still seeking the killer blow." It is a foundation stone of the silver-fern tradition that All Black sides keep battering away until the fat lady sings. This time, uniquely, England were there with them, hollering their hearts out in the final chorus.
"I set the guys a target of 35 points because that's what I felt would be needed to beat this New Zealand team," revealed Woodward. "What did I say to them at half-time? Simple. I told them that we had 23 of the 35 and that there were a dozen more to find."
The record books will always insist that England failed to locate those last few points. What they did discover was a taste for life in rugby's fast lane and if Woodward plays his cards right, there is no reason why they should ever return to the hard shoulder.
England: Tries Rees, Hill, Dallaglio; Conversion Grayson; Penalties Grayson 3. New Zealand: Tries Mehrtens, Little; Conversions Mehrtens 2; Penalties Mehrtens 4.
ENGLAND: M Perry (Bath); D Rees (Sale), W Greenwood (Leicester), P de Glanville (Bath), A Healey (Leicester); P Grayson (Northampton), K Bracken (Saracens); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), M Johnson (Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: T Stimpson (Newcastle) for De Glanville, 59; M Dawson (Northampton) for Bracken, 59; M Regan (Bath) for Cockerill, 64.
NEW ZEALAND: C Cullen (Manawatu); J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce (North Harbour), W Little (North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), J Marshall (Canterbury, capt); M Allen (Manawatu), N Hewitt (Southland), O Brown (Auckland), R Brooke (Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), T Randell (Otago), Z Brooke (Auckland), J Kronfeld (Otago). Replacements: C Spencer (Auckland) for Little, 65; S McLeod (Waikato) for Bunce, 75.
Referee: J Fleming (Scotland).
WAS THIS THE GREATEST TWICKENHAM OCCASION IN RECENT MEMORY?
England's draw against the All Blacks is being compared to some of the greatest games ever played on London's field of dreams.
Chris Hewett looks back on four previous classics to rival Saturday's match.
One for the pugilist rather than the purist, admittedly, but the extraordinary animosity between two sides chasing the Grand Slam turned Twickenham into a seething, snarling bearpit. Both teams gave full rein to the black arts, and Paul Ringer became only the seventh player to be sent off in an international. A tryless England prevailed through a spine-tingling late penalty from Dusty Hare, who lost the last of his remaining hair in the process.
1988 England 28 Australia 19
If Saturday's draw with the All Blacks proves to be a seminal moment in Clive Woodward's coaching career, Geoff Cooke experienced something similar against the Wallabies nine years ago. Will Carling celebrated his first Test as captain by leading a new, fresh-faced side to a startling victory that left the Twickenham faithful blinking in disbelief. It signalled the beginning of a button-bright, if lamentably brief, era of attacking English rugby.
1990 England 34
England had beaten the Welsh only three times in the previous 15 years, but Carling's uninhibited red rose cavalry consigned history to the garbage can by running in half a dozen magnificent tries against the old enemy. One of them fell to the captain himself - a real virtuso effort - and Brian Moore, England's insatiably antagonistic hooker, sent Twickenham into a paroxysm of patriotic fervour by producing his most memorable performance in a Test shirt.
1991 England 21
Stung by events at Murrayfield a year earlier, England put unbridled adventure on the back-burner and reverted to type to squeeze out their first Grand Slam in more than a decade in a winner-take-all confrontation with the French. Rory Underwood ran in a brilliant try, but it was the French who gave the occasion its unique flavour. Philippe Saint-Andre's try, started from behind his own line by Serge Blanco, remains one of the great scores of all time.Reuse content