Rugby Union: The direct route towards history: Richard Williams on a momentous victory that suited its impressive setting

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The Independent Online
APPROACHED from the north-eastern quarter in the dry sunlight of a Saturday lunchtime, it could have been the San Siro: a temple of sport fit for the second half of the 20th century. Quite un-English, in fact. But yesterday England launched their magnificently remodelled Twickenham stadium with a result that will reverberate around the entire rugby-playing world.

To tell the truth, it was a great match only if you happened to be English. Geoff Cooke and Dick Best sent their team out not in the cavalier mood of the World Cup final, but with the mind-set of the team that left Murrayfield in 1990 determined never to give anything away again.

At times, as Rob Andrew kept booting the ball up the centrefield into the arms of John Timu, they looked as though they had been coached by Dave Bassett rather than Dick Best. England's desperate crawl to victory was admirable rather than exhilarating; only at the final whistle did the crowd rise from their seats, but they had spent the preceding 80 minutes on the edges of them, riveted by the efforts of a largely untried England formation to overcome the efforts of a thoroughly tested rugby machine.

'When you put everything into context,' Will Carling said afterwards, 'it has to be the best. New Zealand have had six Tests since we last played together. We had nine changes. They have been on tour for six weeks and we have had four squad sessions. It's got to be a great effort.'

Jonathan Callard's four successful penalties (from six attempts) made him the highest points-scorer against the All Blacks, overtaking Dusty Hare's 11 points in the 1983 Twickenham match. 'A lot of people wondered whether I could handle the pressure,' Callard said, 'but I stuck with my technique.'

If that was the game's outstanding individual performance, Rory Underwood came close in obliterating young Jeff Wilson. Three times the blond hair flew as last week's hero took wing; three times the elder Underwood ruthlessly hunted him down. Wilson's crucial failure to land five of his eight penalty attempts may not have been unconnected.

It was a good day all round for England, and the RFU are also to be congratulated on its choice of Terry Ward, an architect whose priorities extend to the matter of getting people to their seats and out again with the minimum of fuss. When the West Stand redevelopment is completed, in 1995, Twickenham will be the finest sports stadium in the country, so it seems a shame that it will be in use only 15 days a year. Give it a set of floodlights and a tube station, trim the grass by a couple of inches, and Graham Taylor's successor, too, would have a setting to match his dreams.