THERE WILL be a certain something in the Auckland air when the silver fern and the red rose renew their struggle for supremacy at Eden Park on Saturday and the scent is unlikely to resemble anything manufactured by a French perfumery. The second and final Test between New Zealand and England is still six days distant but you do not need Coco Chanel's ultra- sensitive nose to detect the reek of bad blood, bitterness and rank injustice already hanging over the occasion.
England last visited the New Zealand metropolis 13 years ago, having just given the All Blacks a serious hurry-up in Christchurch before succumbing to six penalties gleefully awarded by an Australian referee, Kerry Fitzgerald. The return match was nasty, brutish and horribly one-sided; the home side won the game by a country mile. John Hall, Mike Teague and the other battle- hardened remnants of the visiting pack still wince at the memory.
The parallels with the current situation are too numerous to ignore. England gave a better-than-expected account of themselves in Dunedin on Saturday, but they found themselves terminally undermined by another Wallaby official, Mr Wayne Erickson of Sydney.
Erickson's place on the international list was by no means secure before the weekend and may well be a whole lot shakier now. He had already infuriated the tourists with his imaginative interpretations of scrum, ruck and offside legislation when he dropped his depth charge in the middle of the English engine room. Off went Danny Grewcock, accused of kicking Anton Oliver, the All Black hooker, in the head as the dust settled over a collapsed set-piece. From that point on, Matt Dawson and company were history.
Yet the most disturbing aspect of another heavy defeat had little to do with England's willingness to mix it and even less to do with Christian Cullen's quicksilver brace of first-half tries, Jeff Wilson's thoroughbred finishes after the interval or Jonah Lomu's murderous, Newlands-esque stampede to the left corner within four minutes of Grewcock's descent into red mist land. It had everything to do with the visitors' overwhelming feeling of discrimination, of disciplinary favouritism, of southern hemisphere bias. And the feeling stank.
Some 20 minutes before Grewcock's departure, Graham Rowntree, the Leicester prop, had also disappeared from view in order to have two stitches inserted in a wound beneath his left eye. Rowntree knew he had been stamped by an All Black forward - "All I know is that he was wearing Mizuno boots with bloody sharp studs and that he might have had my eye out," he said afterwards - and video footage incriminated Ian Jones, the long-serving lock. Jones was duly cited by the match commissioner and when Grewcock and his representatives returned to Carisbrook yesterday for the disciplinary hearing, they did so in the confident belief that Jones would also "get his".
Jones did not get anything of the kind. He was "vigorously defended", in the words of the All Black management and exonerated. Erickson, who had missed the incident, viewed the same video excerpt as everyone else and pronounced that had he witnessed Jones' action, he would not even have penalised him, far less shown him the red card. In the referee's view, Jones was guilty neither of kicking nor stamping, but had "rucked Rowntree legitimately". God help us all.
Quite how the English forwards, sans Grewcock, will feel when Jones lines up for the haka at Eden Park is anyone's guess, but the portents for the match are grim indeed. The Rowntree incident is not the only piece of unfinished business; there were dark mutterings yesterday about the concussion suffered by Michael Jones, the All Black flanker, after 20 minutes of a rough and mean-spirited confrontation. According to sources within the New Zealand camp, the damage was caused by an English boot.
And so it goes on. The All Blacks are still seething over Clive Woodward's refusal to name his side until an hour before kick-off; Woodward remains apoplectic over the attempt by John Hart, the All Black coach, to start up a conversation with Erickson during the half-time break; Hart is almost purple-faced at Woodward's implication that he was trying to influence the referee. "I was worried about the safety aspects of eight men scrummaging against seven and I wanted the scrums de-powered," he said. "Clive should check his facts."
England know full well that the All Blacks will now disappear into purdah, fume and smoulder for a few days and then re-emerge harder, hungrier and hell-bent on dishing out a lesson or two. Survival will require more of the same from Ben Clarke, Steve Ojomoh and young Pat Sanderson, who worked themselves to a standstill in the back row, and it will need another injection of purest aggression from Garath Archer, whose devil-may-care physical assaults on the New Zealanders were mightily effective.
Taine Randell's men were over the Otago hills and far, far away by the interval after Cullen and Lomu had shared three tries to establish a 26- 8 lead. In the grand New Zealand tradition, the Blacks upped the ante throughout a third quarter of pulverising pace; Wilson cruised into overdrive on the right wing, scoring the second of his two tries from Cullen's magical sleight of hand, while both Randell and Josh Kronfeld stalked their way on to the scoreboard.
There was not the slightest suggestion of a Brisbane-style capitulation from England, though; Matt Perry combined class and courage at full-back to bring some bulldog spirit to the surface and with Rowntree playing his best game for his country, they finished the stronger by claiming two very passable tries in the last nine minutes.
Roll on Saturday, then; it should be a real barrel of laughs. Especially as the referee, Mr Peter Marshall, comes from... Yes, you guessed it.
n The England management will be under pressure today to investigate an alleged hotel punch-up involving an England player and a New Zealand player. The two are reported to have traded punches outside an hotel, although witnesses have given differing accounts of the incident.
New Zealand: Tries Cullen 2, Randell 2, Wilson 2, Lomu, Kronfeld, Mayerhofler; Conversions Mehrtens 5; Penalties Mehrtens 3. England: Tries Cockerill, Dawson, Beim; Conversions Stimpson 2; Penalty Stimpson.
NEW ZEALAND: C Cullen (Wellington); J Wilson (Otago), M Mayerhofler (Canterbury), W Little (North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), O Tonu'u (Auckland); C Dowd (Auckland), A Oliver (Otago), O Brown (Auckland), R Brooke (Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), M Jones (Auckland), T Randell (Otago, capt), J Kronfeld (Otago). Replacements: T Blackadder (Canterbury)
for M Jones, 20; M Robinson (North Harbour) for Tonu'u, 61.
ENGLAND: M Perry (Bath); T Stimpson (Leicester), N Beal (Northampton), J Lewsey (Bristol), A Healey (Leicester); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Dawson (Northampton, capt); G Rowntree (Leicester), R Cockerill (Leicester), P Vickery (Gloucester), G Archer (Newcastle), D Grewcock (Saracens), B Clarke (Richmond), S Ojomoh (Gloucester), P Sanderson (Sale). Replacements: T Beim (Sale) for Wilkinson, 43; P Greening (Gloucester) for Cockerill, 58; W Green (Wasps) for Vickery, 58; D Sims (Gloucester) for Archer, 77.
Referee: W Erickson (Australia).Reuse content