England's triumph of discipline and courage

New Zealand 13 England 15
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England are due back in New Zealand a year from now, by which time two things may have happened: Clive Woodward's team may have become the first northern hemisphere side to win a World Cup, and the All Black nation may have stopped bleating about the weekend events in their own capital city.

Of these, the first possibility seems more realistic than the second. "We don't like them, they don't like us, and we really loathe the bastards this morning," pronounced one front-page columnist in response to the first English victory here in three decades. Thank you for your kind words, old bean. Have a nice day.

Woodward, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed despite an evening of celebratory excess, was not remotely offended; indeed, the references to "giant gargoyles", "cauliflower-eared monoliths" and "white orcs on steroids" made him laugh out loud. "I hope they're not talking about me," chuckled the coach. "Let's face it, we are unloved wherever we go. It's a fact of life that everyone wants to beat England at rugby union. You can't sit around worrying about it. I see it as part of the beauty of our game, something that should inspire us."

Inspiration takes a multitude of forms on a rugby field, and many of those forms were conspicuous by their absence at the "Cake Tin" on Saturday. There was no twinkled-toed escapology from Jason Robinson, for instance; no sublime out-of-the-tackle passes from Will Greenwood. Jonny Wilkinson, considered by a majority of observers on both sides of the equator to be the best pound-for-pound player in the world, found the mixture of the wet Wellington gale and Richie McCaw's hunter-gatherer instincts unusually troublesome.

However, England brought other inspirations to bear on the All Blacks and emerged with a victory that will underpin their challenge for the Webb Ellis Trophy in Australia this autumn. On this occasion, inspiration equalled spirit and courage and clear-headed, bloody-minded discipline - all the nasty, smelly, face-in-the-dirt aspects of rugby life that separates the best from the rest.

Fifty minutes into a tourniquet-tight Test played out before a full house of tough North Island hard-heads, England found themselves facing a series of defensive scrums five metres from their own line, with two back-row forwards in the sin-bin. Richard Hill, the one remaining loosie, has often been described as a one-man back row, but this was pushing it just a bit far. "I did wonder where my mates were," he admitted.

Along with a tight five bolstered by Phil Vickery's massive bulk - the Gloucester prop had replaced Jason Leonard after the interval and was performing magnificently - Hill drew the deepest of breaths and prepared for the siege. Eight against six? This was Alamo territory. England disrupted the first All Black surge with a cleverly-timed wheel and spiked the second by hitting the deck - a dangerous tactic in every sense of the word, but hey...any port in a storm. At the third time of asking, the two front rows stood up. If Stuart Dickinson, the referee, had any clear idea of who might be doing what to whom, he did not act upon it.

Dickinson penalised England at the fourth scrum, though - "I think he did us for not binding," said Steve Thompson, the hooker, "which was a bit annoying, considering what we had just been through" - but the tourists reacted instantly and en masse when Rodney So'oialo went solo, so to speak, and they won a penalty of their own by sacking the dreadlocked No 8 just short of the line and forcing him into an illegal double movement.

Wilkinson dutifully cleared his lines and the crisis had passed. At the next scrum, with Mike Tindall in the role of makeshift flanker, England smashed into the New Zealanders and shunted them backwards.

"It was a matter of everyone buying into what had to be done," said Hill, reflecting on those desperate moments at the set-piece. "It was not a case of the senior players telling the others what to do, of anyone dishing out instructions. We all knew deep inside what was required. We understood that the situation demanded total concentration and total physical commitment, that nothing less than everything would be enough.

"There was still a good 30 minutes of the game to go," Hill pointed out, "but at that point in those circumstances, we needed to give every last ounce of energy, and then find some more from somewhere so we could play the rest of the game."

There was an enormous amount of energy pulsing around the stadium at kick-off time, much of it too nervous by half. McCaw, a fast and ruthless open-side pirate in the grand All Black tradition of Waka Nathan and Josh Kronfeld, was the outstanding figure in a first-half punctuated by handling errors caused partly by the challenging conditions, but mostly by the ferocity of the tackling.

Having hounded Wilkinson to distraction, McCaw turned his attention to Robinson, twice leaving the wing in a shallow grave with hits that would have have had armour-plated American footballers wincing in their helmets.

Crucially, Wilkinson held his nerve. Quite how he summoned the wherewithal to kick crucial penalties while the rest of his game was collapsing around his ears was anyone's guess, but he managed it. The outside-half's first penalty was easy meat, but his second was nothing short of a masterpiece, converted from the right touchline with the wind swirling in all directions.

His opposite number, Carlos Spencer, also landed two penalties, but he missed several others and was none too hot with his running game. With Kyran Bracken operating smoothly at half-back and Lawrence Dallaglio relishing "the collision", as he likes to call it, England reached the turn at 6-6.

Vickery's appearance allowed them to exert an increasing degree of control at close quarters - control that resulted in nine more points from Wilkinson, three of them courtesy of a right-footed drop goal from a position created by the faultless Dallaglio's turnover routine on Doug Howlett. Even when Spencer spotted Robinson and Josh Lewsey at the bottom of an upfield ruck and kicked long for Howlett to claim the only try of the night, the All Blacks were still two points adrift. They were still there at the final whistle, which eventually arrived after 15 minutes of stoppage time.

Needless to say, the All Blacks will improve over the coming months. Andrew Mehrtens, a troubled genius of an outside-half, may be rehabilitated in time for the World Cup; Aaron Mauger and Leon MacDonald, high-class operators at centre and full-back respectively, will certainly be fit; Joe Rokocoko, an exceptional newcomer on the wing, will find his bearings and prosper.

It is also inconceivable that Justin Marshall, their experienced scrum-half, will make as many errors of judgement in the entire World Cup campaign as he did on Saturday. Had he flicked the ball left instead of cutting inside following Spencer's one clean break at the start of the second half, New Zealand might not be in mourning today.

But England will get better too. "Technically, we were miles off," Woodward said. "We have no choice but to improve, because we won't get near the World Cup playing like that. There again, we genuinely thought we would beat the All Blacks in this game, and we did so. I said to the players before the match that we were favourites, and I based that on a reading of the form and the man-to-man match-up on the team sheet.

"It's about time we were comfortable with the thought of playing these guys and expecting to win, and I think we're getting there. I'd have been hugely disappointed had we lost."

New Zealand: Try Howlett; Con Spencer; Pens Spencer 2. England: Pens Wilkinson 4; Drop goal Wilkinson.

NEW ZEALAND: D Howlett (Auckland); J Rokocoko (Auckland), M Nonu (Wellington), T Umaga (Wellington), C Ralph (Canterbury); C Spencer (Auckland), J Marshall (Canterbury); D Hewett (Canterbury), A Oliver (Otago), G Somerville (Canterbury), C Jack (Canterbury), A Williams (Auckland), R Thorne (Canterbury, capt), R McCaw (Canterbury), R So'oialo (Wellington). Replacements: S Devine (Auckland) for Marshall, 48; K Mealamu (Auckland) for Oliver, 61; M Muliaina (Auckland) for Rokocoko, 83; J Collins (Wellington) for So'oialo, 84.

ENGLAND: J Lewsey (Wasps); J Robinson (Sale), M Tindall (Bath), W Greenwood (Harlequins), B Cohen (Northampton); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), K Bracken (Saracens); G Rowntree (Leicester), S Thompson (Northampton), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester, capt), B Kay (Leicester), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacements: P Vickery (Gloucester) for Leonard, h-t; J Worsley (Wasps) for Hill, 83; D Luger (Harlequins) for Lewsey, 90.

Referee: S Dickinson (Australia).


45 MIN
Neil Back sent to sin-bin for persistent offending. Doug Howlett passes to Carlos Spencer, who races away on a 50 metre run down the right touchline. Cuts inside and passes to Howlett who feeds Justin Marshall 10 metres from England's line. Marshall passes to Joe Rokocoko who is tackled by Ben Cohen.

47 MIN
Lawrence Dallaglio is sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball. England reduced to 13 men, but more significantly it is six against eight in the forward line.

48 MIN
Prop Graham Rowntree is penalised. Rodney So'oialo takes a quick penalty and dives for the line. He is held up by the England defence and is penalised after replays show he failed to release the ball.

In the next attack, Caleb Ralph runs 20 metres and kicks ahead. Josh Lewsey drops the ball inside his 22. Ralph flicks a pass to Richard McCaw who looks certain to score, but is hit by a tackle from Mike Tindall.

50 MIN
All Blacks win the ball 10 metres out. Pile on the pressure but are stopped when Ma'a Nonu is brought down by a try-saving tackle from Jonny Wilkinson.

52 MIN
England win turn-over, move ball upfield, All Blacks eventually knock on at a line-out. England win scrum and wind the clock down by keeping possession.

54 MIN
Back returns. All Blacks concede penalty at the scrum.

55 MIN
Wilkinson kicks penalty from right touchline just outside the 22. New Zealand 6 England 12. Dallaglio is back on.


Heroic under the high ball in defence, the Wasps man was bravery personified.

Had limited opportunities to attack, but his defensive abilities rose to the challenge.

Organised England's midfield defence superbly, utilising all his experience and tactical expertise.

Ran his heart out in attack and tackled as though his life depended on it, especially during the second half.

England's most dangerous attacker, he came desperately close to scoring a second-half try.

Recovered from an uncertain start in blustery conditions by booting England home through another goalkicking master-class.

Replaced the injured Matt Dawson in England's starting line-up, and never took a backwards step.

Rock-solid in the scrums, relishing a physical battle opposite New Zealand's front-row.

Endured a poor first-half with his line-out throwing, but bounced back superbly in the second half.

Replaced by Phil Vickery at half-time, but got through his work in typically unfussy fashion.

England's captain led from the front, and was a mighty warrior during the second-half defensive rearguard.

Huge work-rate, especially when New Zealand went for broke during the closing stages.

Tackled himself to a standstill to confirm his status as world rugby's premier back-row forward.

Sent to sin-bin early in the second period, but he returned to marshal defensive effort.

England's top performer, he produced a mighty contribution in attack and defence. World-class.

Phil Vickery 9: Arguably England's major ball-carrier.
Joe Worsley 7: Replaced Hill seven minutes from time.