Autumn Internationals: England reach for the stars and land on top of the world
England 38-21 New Zealand: Stuart Lancaster's heroes notch up three tries in a majestic performance to beat the world champion All Blacks, overhauling a record that had stood since the sepia days of the Red Rose's Russian prince 76 years ago
Like a lonely planet in an elliptical orbit around a bright sun, England sometimes get close to beating New Zealand; sometimes they are a long way distant. Very occasionally – and most memorably here in 1993 and in Wellington 10 years later – the red rose has eclipsed the All Blacks. But never quite like this: England’s record score and margin of victory in the fixture. The latter statistic had existed since the sepia-toned days of two tries by their Russian prince, Alexander Obolensky in 1936, for goodness’ sake.
England were tingling having worked a 12-0 lead at half-time, assisted in part by two missed kicks by Dan Carter, Test rugby's all-time leading points-scorer. The All Blacks had arrived on a 20-match unbeaten run to add to the confidence of a decade without defeat to the English. Yet when the world champions unleashed what might have been a shattering comeback with two quick second-half tries, their opponents did not collapse. Instead, Chris Robshaw's England wrote a page in history, laughing in the face of Carter, Richie McCaw and their fellow luminaries.
The first quarter was a cagey period of parrying, with both teams kicking long and wide. England, while going forward, made mistakes: an overdone box-kick here, a knock-on in a ruck there, a penalty by Owen Farrell that did not find touch. In the second quarter Farrell kicked three penalties and a dropped goal and the incredible became believable.
England, seeking a first win over southern-hemisphere opponents at the sixth attempt under Stuart Lancaster's coaching, concentrated fiercely on maintaining their defensive guard, man for man, phase after phase. One sequence ended with England's props, Dan Cole and Alex Corbisiero, on their backsides in need of a breather. But Farrell's third penalty, from 45 metres, sent England into the interval with a spring under their studs. New Zealand? Paint peeling off the walls, no doubt, as they contemplated a first loss since August 2011.
Geoff Parling was securing good line-out ball for England and the All Blacks needed unexpectedly larger numbers even to create parity at the breakdown. The only home concern was their most potent finisher missing a try before Farrell's first penalty. Parling's catch launched an attack and Ben Morgan and Alex Goode fed Chris Ashton close to the touchline, but the wing, who began the autumn suspended for the win over Fiji, took his eye off the ball and it bounced away. It was the kind of marginal error that cost England wins in the past fortnight. Little did they know it, but Ashton's run of 12 Tests without a try would end soon enough.
The second half was spectacular; a riotous frenzy of scoring and switchback emotions. Farrell's penalty made it 15-0 before the All Blacks forced a belated foothold with tries in the 48th and 51st minutes. Farrell went off his feet to concede a penalty that was kicked for a line-out secured by Sam Whitelock and, with a right- to-left move, the dynamic Julian Savea scored his 11th try in nine Tests by skipping past five England defenders. Then Conrad Smith straightened in typical style to supply the No 8 Kieran Read after England had failed to clear their lines.
It was just a black blip. Tom Wood and Robshaw tackled hard and often; the scrum built on the good work against the Springboks, and Farrell got his head up and began to show the vision of a top fly-half. The Kiwi defence that allowed Scotland and Wales five tries between them on this tour cracked three more times as England went from 15-14 to 32-14 in just eight minutes. And the biggest pinch-yourself moment was a try made by England's previously stodgy centres. Conrad Smith's drift left Read too much to do to cover Brad Barritt's run and the adopted South African ran free, exchanging passes with Manu Tuilagi to score his first Test try.
Farrell, in contrast to Carter, had begun to miss his kicks – the conversion of Barritt's try and the next one by Ashton – but it did not matter. A line-out off the top unleashed Tuilagi with a characteristically devastating burst past Carter, McCaw (who would not be adding to his amazing 102 wins in his 116th Test) and Aaron Smith. Ashton, dutifully tracking, arrived on Tuilagi's shoulder for the long-awaited "Ash Splash" over the South Stand goalline.
When Read's pass to Carter was picked off by Tuilagi for a 40-metre run-in, Twickenham was in dreamland. Outstripping the 13-0 margin of 1936 and the total points from England's 31-28 win in 2002, England were able to send substitutes on as it suited. The debutant fly-half, Freddie Burns of Gloucester, kicked two penalties and Savea's second try was of no consequence on one of England's greatest days.
England: A Goode (Saracens); C Ashton (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins); O Farrell (Saracens), B Youngs (Leicester); A Corbisiero (London Irish), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), T Wood (Northampton), B Morgan (Gloucester), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt).
Replacements: D Paice (London Irish) for T Youngs 72
M Vunipola (Saracens) for Corbisiero 66
C Lawes (Northampton) for Launchbury 66
J Haskell (Wasps) for Morgan 57
F Burns (Gloucester) for Farrell 64
J Joseph (London Irish) for Tuilagi 66
New Zealand: I Dagg (Hawke’s Bay); C Jane (Wellington), C Smith (Wellington), M Nonu (Wellington), J Savea (Wellington); D Carter (Canterbury), A Smith (Manawatu); T Woodcock (North Harbour), K Mealamu (Auckland), O Franks (Canterbury), B Retallick (Hawke’s Bay), S Whitelock (Canterbury), L Messam (Waikato), K Read (Canterbury), R McCaw (Canterbury, capt).
D Coles (Wellington) for Mealamu 62
W Crockett (Canterbury) for Woodcock 66
C Faumuina (Auckland) for Franks 52
L Romano (Canterbury) for Retallick 49
V Vito (Wellington) for Messam 62
P Weepu (Wellington) for A Smith 64
A Cruden (Manawatu) for Carter 64
B Smith (Otago) for Dagg 70
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).
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