Hodgson helpless in a team playing like Charlies

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The Independent Online

Before leaving for New Zealand, which is a long way from home at the best of times and must seem twice as far after a drubbing by the All Blacks, Charlie Hodgson said he had not spoken to Jonny Wilkinson since before the Six Nations' Championship. England's new fly-half might wish for a few reassuring words now from the man whose No 10 jersey he is filling on this tour. Wilkinson went through a chastening experience in Australia early in his Test career, and though they call this sort of thing a learning curve, it is important Hodgson's confidence is not bent out of all recognition.

Before leaving for New Zealand, which is a long way from home at the best of times and must seem twice as far after a drubbing by the All Blacks, Charlie Hodgson said he had not spoken to Jonny Wilkinson since before the Six Nations' Championship. England's new fly-half might wish for a few reassuring words now from the man whose No 10 jersey he is filling on this tour. Wilkinson went through a chastening experience in Australia early in his Test career, and though they call this sort of thing a learning curve, it is important Hodgson's confidence is not bent out of all recognition.

Wilkinson fought back from the pain of a 76-0 defeat in Brisbane in his second Test, and Hodgson must somehow do likewise after his ninth international went a similar way at the House of Pain. The 23-year-old from Halifax kept on probing the half-gaps to the end, but his kicking from hand was mixed, to put it kindly, and on one of the few occasions England got close to the goal-line, Hodgson passed behind Mike Tindall instead of coaxing him forward. A second Test against the All Blacks followed by one in Australia might seem dread prospects to Hodgson this morning, but they could yet be the making of him.

Perhaps in a week when New Zealanders took a holiday for the Queen's official birthday, it was to be expected that our Charles would run into trouble with a Spencer. They call New Zealand's fly-half "King Carlos", and though the Auckland playmaker had a troubled World Cup, he was back in his pomp behind a pack who dominated England's.

It remains to be seen what Hodgson can do with the luxury afforded to Spencer of a surfeit of line-out possession and plenty of turnovers from ruck and maul. Spencer showed what he can do when he combined brilliantly on the runaround with Doug Howlett for the first All Black try.

For every banana kick of Spencer's there was an uncertain punt from Hodgson, who often appears to fall off his clearances. Neither does Hodgson have Wilkinson's facility of using his "wrong" foot, which can lead the way out of a tight spot, such as the one he found himself in near to the left touchline during the second half.

But a simple comparison between Hodgson and Spencer, or Hodgson and Wilkinson, is not entirely the point. The last occasion England were denied a try was seven Tests ago, against France in the World Cup semi-finals. Then, Wilkinson's goal kicks took care of business, but only because the pack were on the front foot. Hodgson has a reliable eye for the posts but it was useful only once, when he tied the scores at 3-3 in the 14th minute. There is probably not a fly-half on the planet who could offset a beating such as England's forwards took.

The World Cup was at Twickenham last week, on display in the Museum of Rugby, which could be where some of Sir Clive Woodward's selections are soon heading. With the organising ability of Will Greenwood dispensed with for the summer, it was up to Mike Catt to act as Hodgson's shepherd, an activity they know a bit about in New Zealand. But Catt has been put out to pasture by Bath, and maybe England should follow suit. One of the outstanding players at the tail end of the domestic season was Stuart Abbott, and the Wasps centre gave a lift to both attack and defence when he came on as a substitute. For the most part, though, England were strangers to their opponents' 22.

Hodgson was more regularly acquainted with the attentions of Keith Robinson and Richie McCaw. The latter enhanced his reputation as the world's best openside flanker, while Robinson, the shaven-headed second-row who was a bit of a mystery when he made his Test debut at Twickenham in 2002, made an absolute nuisance of himself. Robinson has been around a bit, even spending a few months in Hodgson's Yorkshire playing for North Ribblesdale at around the time Wilkinson took his faltering fledgling steps on the global stage. It's a small world and, as Charlie Hodgson found out yesterday, sometimes a bewildering one.

'We are surprised at the ease of our win'

I cannot think of one positive - even if I try my hardest. Sir Clive Woodward, England head coach

We are delighted and a little surprised at the ease of our victory. Graham Henry, New Zealand coach

There are no excuses. We missed six first-up tackles in the whole game in Wellington last year. We missed six from the kick-off today. If you are going to miss them at that rate then you make life incredibly difficult. Lawrence Dallaglio, England captain

We knew they were big and hard and set the benchmark for the world's forwards. We took the challenge and I think we showed them a thing or two. It was great. Kees Meeuws, All Black prop

I will take my time and not overreact, but you cannot win Test matches if don't win your line-out ball and you drop off tackles. Woodward

In the past, when aspects of the game have gone belly-up, the defence has come to the rescue, but it didn't tonight. Phil Larder, England defensive coach

England are world champions and they will come back very strongly. You get better through those type of experiences. Henry

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