Blackest day for England and Woodward

Dallaglio's team are ruthlessly exposed as New Zealand dish out a master class in style and substance
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The Independent Online

The House of Pain? Try the House of Horror instead. England, their world title shop-soiled by two defeats in the Six Nations' Championship, were further humbled by a newly minted All Blacks side at Carisbrook yesterday, and now look more fragile than at any time in the last four years. They performed a passable imitation of themselves by defending cussedly in the second half, but having leaked an embarrassing 30 points in the opening period, it was akin to turning off the taps on the Titanic.

The House of Pain? Try the House of Horror instead. England, their world title shop-soiled by two defeats in the Six Nations' Championship, were further humbled by a newly minted All Blacks side at Carisbrook yesterday, and now look more fragile than at any time in the last four years. They performed a passable imitation of themselves by defending cussedly in the second half, but having leaked an embarrassing 30 points in the opening period, it was akin to turning off the taps on the Titanic.

Clive Woodward, about to be knighted for coaching his team to the Webb Ellis Cup in Australia seven months ago, was reduced to pauper status by his opposite number and rival of long standing, Graham Henry. "I cannot think of any positives to take from this," he admitted. "Even if I tried my hardest, I don't think I could identify one." And this from a man whose glass is generally half-full.

At least he had plenty of time to acquaint himself with the avalanche of negatives, for they started descending the moment Charlie Hodgson, one of England's more enthusiastic contributors despite his defensive frailties, kicked off. For reasons best known to himself, the Sale outside-half sent the ball straight to Joe Rokocoko, the most dangerous counter-attacker in Christendom, and the Fijian-born wing promptly left Steve Thompson, Danny Grewcock and Matt Dawson clutching cold South Island air.

"When we beat the All Blacks in Wellington last year, we missed six tackles all match," groaned Lawrence Dallaglio, the England captain. "Here, we missed six in the first minute." If the initial forward exchanges were more than a little fiery - Keith Robinson, a tough-nut second row from Waikato, was responsible for more bouts of fisticuffs than Don King - the momentum was all one way. The All Blacks dominated the contact area so completely that they turned over English possession almost at will. What was more, they ruled the roost at the set-pieces they were expected to concede without much of a fight.

Their opening try, completed in the right corner by Carlos Spencer following the charging down of a panic-stricken kick by Dawson and two wonderful passes from the No 8 Xavier Rush and the wing Doug Howlett, hardly came as a shock to the system, given their across-the-board supremacy. The only surprise was that it took them 18 minutes to score it.

Suddenly, England were 10-3 adrift - Daniel Carter and Hodgson had swapped early penalties - and over the next half-hour they would find themselves on the unpleasant end of another 20 points. Rokocoko claimed the second try on 29 minutes, evading the covering Hodgson with his loose-limbed stride following a sweeping move involving Mils Muliaina, Justin Marshall and Richie McCaw. The tourists might have reduced their arrears with a penalty in front of the sticks had Ben Cohen not bad-mouthed the referee, Jonathan Kaplan, into reversing his decision. Instead, they found themselves cut to ribbons by Rokocoko and Muliaina, who worked Howlett down the narrowest of touchline channels for try number three.

Two penalties by Carter in first-half stoppage time underlined the futility of England's task after the break. Dallaglio, not exactly the first sportsman who springs to mind when it comes to giving up the ghost, freely acknowledged afterwards that the game was dead and buried at the mid-point, and he summed up the feeling of helplessness by admitting: "We finished second in that half of rugby by a very long way, and I say that as someone who is not used to losing games under any circumstances."

While England looked a yard off the pace - at times, the distance was closer to a mile - the All Blacks were in the happy position of being unable to do anything wrong. Henry's selection was spot-on, with the gifted Rush showing some sweet touches at No 8 and Jono Gibbes, the new cap on the blindside flank, enjoying the most rewarding of debuts. A big personality and an inspired competitor, Gibbes was in the eye of the storm from first minute to last. His line-out work was secure, his rucking ruthless, his tackling prodigious. Only the aggressive Robinson, another newcomer, challenged him for the man-of-the-match honours.

Maybe Jono would have been quieter had Jonno been playing. Sadly for the tourists, Martin Johnson is strictly past tense. The mantle of enforcer-in-chief has passed to Danny Grewcock, who found the responsibility too great yester-day. Grewcock was substituted at the interval, and England's line-out was certainly more potent for the presence of Steve Borthwick. Woodward must now decide whether to start next week's Second Test in Auckland with the combination that ended this one. There must be a strong likelihood of him pairing Borthwick with Simon Shaw.

Shaw was one of two or three players at the heart of an improved English display after the interval - the second 40 might easily have been grisly in the extreme, but with Dallaglio and Mike Tindall tackling their weight, the New Zealanders were restricted to two further penalties from Carter. For all that, Woodward will be more conscious of his underperformers. Josh Lewsey made some very public errors at full-back, James Simpson-Daniel failed to register a presence, Mike Catt looked off the pace, Dawson's service was laboured.

Henry, who enjoyed the occasional glory day with Wales and the Lions, has no such issues on his plate. He does not even have any injury hassles as a result of this intensely physical, if one-sided, first Test as All Blacks coach.

"Am I surprised? I would have to say 'Yes' to that," he admitted. So was Woodward, who learned in 1998 what can happen in these parts if the wheels part company with the wagon. That trip came to be known as the "tour of hell". Six years on, heaven seems every bit as far away.

New Zealand 36 England 3

Tries: Spencer, Rokocoko, Howlett Pen: Hodgson

Cons: Carter 3

Pens: Carter 5

Half-time: 30-3 Attendance: 32,000

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