While England were engaged against Australia, the All Blacks, or at least the All Blacks who will be on duty at Twickenham next Saturday, were putting their feet up in Dublin. New Zealand's policy, almost set in stone, was never to change a winning team. Graham Henry's view is that a change is as good as a rest.
When Henry arrived in Britain for only the seventh New Zealand Grand Slam tour in a 100 years, one that takes in all four home countries, he insisted his primary purpose was to dev-elop players for the 2007 World Cup rather than win a Grand Slam. Nobody believed him.
But then he didn't so much break with tradition as throw the rule book out the window by changing en masse the side who outplayed Wales 41-3 in Cardiff for yesterday's Test against Ireland. "We share our resources equally," Henry, the New Zealand coach, said. "Our goal is to have two or more players in every position who are proven at international level."
So the dirt-trackers got to play against Ireland, and can expect another run against Scotland, while the crême de la crême, who did for the Lions before winning the Tri-Nations, will be added to the black coffee served to the English.
There was another startling development recently, one which, refreshingly and reassuringly, suggests that the high-tech All Blacks are human after all. In the build-up to the game against Wales, seven of New Zealand's finest were drinking in the Hilton Hotel in Cardiff until 6am. Crikey!
Even crikier is that the party included Daniel Carter, the assassin with the choirboy's halo who went on to score 26 points against the Welsh. His fellow night owls were Leon MacDonald, Aaron Mauger, Chris Masoe, Jason Eaton, Jimmy Cowan and Piri Weepu. Photographs of them socialising with fans were splashed in newspapers in New Zealand.
Nor were they the only All Blacks who seemed to be confusing the start of the tour with the end of term. Another group were said to have boarded a train to London, only to change their minds somewhere in the West Country. They returned to the team hotel in Cardiff in time for breakfast.
The New Zealand management have been keen to play the whole thing down. "Good- behaviour clauses in the players' contracts were not breached," Henry said. "They were not heavily intoxicated." He added that the matter was dealt with at a private disciplinary session where the peerless Carter faced his peers. No fines were imposed and no curfew would be introduced for the tourists.
Darren Shand, the manager, said: "We're going through some pain. Their behaviour was not acceptable. They let themselves down, but hopefully it will spur them on to be better people. They had to go in front of their peers, and that is tougher than being fined NZ$500 [£197] or sent home." It was noted with dismay that some players were drinking Heineken, a rival beer to one of New Zealand's sponsors.
None of this will have amused the Rt Hon Helen Clark, the New Zealand prime minister, who heads a delegation, including Colin Meads, that will attempt to win the approval of the International Rugby Board in Dublin on Thursday to host the 2011 World Cup. They are up against Japan, the favourites, and South Africa.
The All Blacks will be in London this week and, provided they don't go AWOL in Soho, nothing will deflect them from their goal of beating England. Carter and Co have been saved for this. They put five tries on Wales without reply; last February, England failed to register a try at the Millennium Stadium.
The England coach, Andy Robinson, and many of his players, including the captain, Martin Corry, know what to expect. "My understanding of where England need to go is far clearer as a result of my experience working with the Lions against the best team in the world," Robinson said. "You can't buy what you discover about yourself and others on a trip like that. I hope people will see the fruits of those discoveries."
Sir Clive Woodward lost the Lions series 3-0 but was defiant at the death. "There is no gulf between the southern and northern hemispheres. I only judge teams like New Zealand in World Cups, where we're all on the same stage. I would caution them. Reputations can be destroyed in one game." Referring to this autumn, Woodward added: "It will be interesting to see how they perform out of season and away from home."
Twickenham can hardly wait. The All Blacks have only completed the Slam once, in 1978. On three of the previous five occasions they were denied by Wales, who recorded famous victories, and then by Scotland and Ireland, who managed to draw.
First up, England need to reconvert their stadium into Fortress Twickenham where, between the autumn of 1999 and 2004, they enjoyed a 20-match unbeaten run. "When we're playing at home we must expect to win," Corry said. If his forwards don't provide a secure platform, not to mention quick ball, it is difficult to see how England can outflank an All Blacks side who may be out of season but are still very much on song.
As the Lions discovered, it is a job and a half defending against a mixture of blistering pace, aggression and skill. And that's just Carter.
THE GREAT RIVALS
1925: ENGLAND 11 NZ 17: It was not the done thing, and when it happened a then-record crowd of 60,000 at Twickenham was stunned. After warning the warring forwards three times in the opening six minutes, referee Albert Freethy sent off the All Black lock Cyril Brownlie, the first player to be dismissed in an international.
1993: ENGLAND 15 NZ 9: Jon Callard, a newly capped full-back from Bath, kept his nerve to kick the All Blacks to defeat. Jeff Wilson, just 20, was forced into the role of kicker and, in a dour struggle, he could not match Callard (left). Wilson, who had scored three tries on his debut against Scotland, was in tears in the dressing room.
1999: ENGLAND 16 NZ 30: This was the World Cup and this was Jonah Lomu. The great wing, who had destroyed England with four tries in the semi-finals of the 1995 World Cup, again broke their defence and their hearts with one of the most memorable touchdowns ever seen at Twickenham.Reuse content