Gibbes leads the All Black destruction of England

New Zealand 36 England 3
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The Independent Online

It is one thing to confront a New Zealand team with only six forwards on the field, as England famously did in Wellington last year when Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back were sentenced to simultaneous terms of incarceration in the sin-bin. It is quite another to attempt something similar with no forwards at all. Here at the House of Pain, a veritable Alcatraz for touring teams since 1908, the world-champion pack found themselves under lock and key from the kick-off and failed to offer even the slightest indication that they might escape with their reputation in one piece.

It is one thing to confront a New Zealand team with only six forwards on the field, as England famously did in Wellington last year when Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back were sentenced to simultaneous terms of incarceration in the sin-bin. It is quite another to attempt something similar with no forwards at all. Here at the House of Pain, a veritable Alcatraz for touring teams since 1908, the world-champion pack found themselves under lock and key from the kick-off and failed to offer even the slightest indication that they might escape with their reputation in one piece.

Three tries and 30-3 down at the interval, England were minced, mashed and marmalised; if you prefer the more succinct New Zealand description, they were "monstered". Clive Woodward has suffered defeats on this scale before, but not for six years - an eternity in terms of the development of his Webb Ellis Trophy-winning side. In 1998, Woodward toured All Black country with a squad of players so wet behind the ears that some of the training sessions were held in a crèche. The coach expected to lose every game, and he was not disappointed. Armed this time with 16 of his World Cup squad and the pick of an ambitious new generation, he expected to win.

He might as well have expected a free trip to the moon, with dinner included. England were not only beaten, but beaten at their own game - a style based squarely on the establishment of a rugged authority up front. They fielded two players, the Leicester prop Julian White and the Bath lock Danny Grewcock, who, it was widely assumed, would petrify the hired muscle in the New Zealand pack with a dark stare here and a flexing of the biceps there. As it turned out, Grewcock was substituted at half-time after failing to subdue the shaven-headed bovver boy Keith Robinson, while White failed to match his opposite number, Carl Hayman, in the fun-and-games department, principally because he was five yards off the pace.

"There were a few little incidents out there, but they didn't amount to much," said Hayman, a trifle sadly. "Had it really gone off, it would have been fun." Good grief, who would have thought it? Twelve months previously, England's forwards had struck fear into the hearts of an entire population and gloried in their image as "white orcs on steroids". Now, they found themselves confronting an All Black pack who were positively looking for a dockyard brawl, rather than seeking to avoid one at any price.

This was seriously bad news for the tourists, for they could have won this game only by winning the scrap. There was no earthly possibility of them giving the New Zealand backs the run-around - from Mils Muliaina at full-back to Justin Marshall at scrum-half via Doug Howlett, Joe Rokocoko, Tana Umaga, Daniel Carter and the arch-illusionist Carlos Spencer, the All Blacks are a class apart - and with Jonny Wilkinson back home in the north-east of England, there was not much hope of staging an Alamo production along the lines of the one in Wellington. Charlie Hodgson is a wonderfully creative stand-off and he worked his socks off on Saturday, but he is no Wilkinson in the tackling department.

"Jonny is a special player all round and we miss him in many ways," Woodward conceded yesterday, before returning to the team base in Auckland to prepare for this weekend's thankless second Test at Eden Park, a venue second only to Carisbrook in terms of impregnability. "In last year's match, we made 250 tackles in 80 minutes and missed six; this time, we missed four straight from the kick-off. But I don't have Jonny here, so there's no point even mentioning the guy."

All the same, the coach must yearn for his presence. Rokocoko would not have scored New Zealand's second try a minute short of the half-hour mark had Wilkinson been in residence; the approach work of Muliaina, Marshall and Richie McCaw was exceptional, but Hodgson's powder-puff tackle on the big Fijian-born wing as he cut an angle towards the posts bordered on the lamentable. Hodgson was slightly less culpable when Howlett outpaced him in a right-wing channel approximately 18 inches wide as the first half slipped into stoppage time, but this did not brighten Woodward's mood. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was in many ways the worst moment of the match, for the score resulted from a bog-standard back-line move straight off first phase. Set-piece tries are as rare as hen's teeth against Wilkinson-led defences.

England's back-rowers might have made Hodgson's life a little more comfortable had they been on their games, but they were blown away by McCaw and the two fresh ingredients in the All Black mix, Jono Gibbes and Xavier Rush. Gibbes hurt England so often and in so many areas that it is a difficult to recall a more convincing performance from a Test debutant. An Auckland-born Maori who captained the Waikato Chiefs to the knock-out phase of this year's Super 12 tournament, he was the manager of the New Zealanders' driving maul and the governor of their line-out. He tackled, he rucked, he carried the ball, he claimed possession from the restarts. Why not make him coach? He does everything else.

As the celebratory beer - or what passes for beer in this part of the world - began to flow, Gibbes talked about the surreal" nature of the game. It was easy to understand his choice of adjective, for he had anticipated a far more extreme test of mind and body. "When we performed the haka, it was everything I'd dreamed it would be from boyhood," he said. "But when it came to the kick-off I was worried they'd send the ball straight to me. I thought: 'Oh shit, here we go.' Thankfully, it went to Rokocoko instead, and he ran 40 metres."

If the All Blacks scarcely looked back from that horribly early moment, England barely put their heads above the parapet. Assuming Woodward was being straight yesterday - "I have 31 players here and as none of them came along for the ride, they are all under consideration," the coach said - there could be as many as five changes for the Eden Park Test. Steve Borthwick may start alongside Simon Shaw at lock, Joe Worsley will surely feature in the back row and there can be no earthly point in denying Stuart Abbott, the Wasps centre, an opportunity in midfield.

In fact, Woodward could send out an entirely new XV and not be any more embarrassed than he was at Carisbrook. "I didn't come all the way down here just to put on a brave face," he said. Sadly, that may be all that is left to him.

New Zealand: Tries: Spencer, Rokocoko, Howlett. Conversions Carter 3. Penalties Carter 5. England: Penalty Hodgson.

NEW ZEALAND: M Muliaina (Auckland); D Howlett (Auckland), T Umaga (Wellington, capt), D Carter (Canterbury), J Rokocoko (Auckland); C Spencer (Auckland), J Marshall (Canterbury); K Meeuws (Auckland), K Mealamu (Auckland), C Hayman (Otago), C Jack (Canterbury), K Robinson (Waikato), J Gibbes (Waikato), R McCaw (Canterbury), X Rush (Auckland). Replacements: A Woodcock (North Harbour) for Hayman 25-27 and for Meeuws 73; A Hore (Taranaki) for Mealamu 33-40; M Holah (Waikato) for McCaw 63; N Evans (North Harbour) for Rokocoko 66; S Tuitupou (Auckland) for Carter 73.

ENGLAND: J Lewsey (Wasps); J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), M Tindall (Bath), M Catt (London Irish), B Cohen (Northampton); C Hodgson (Sale), M Dawson (Northampton); T Woodman (Sale), S Thompson (Northampton), J White (Leicester), S Shaw (Wasps), D Grewcock (Bath), C Jones (Sale), R Hill (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt). Replacements: S Abbott (Wasps) for Lewsey 25-36 and for Catt 67; S Borthwick (Bath) for Grewcock H-T; J Worsley (Wasps) for Jones H-T; A Gomarsall (Gloucester) for Dawson 66; M Regan (Leeds) for Thompson 68; M Stevens (Bath) for White 68.

Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).

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