Carter tour de forces England to their knees

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The clever clogs who got rid of old-style touring played into the All Blacks' hands; when those hands are like Dan Carter's, the error is magnified. It has been punished now by two Grand Slams against England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in four years. To paraphrase the beaten England manager here, Martin Johnson, give them a chance and they take it.

Johnson's team attempted to turn Twickenham into a battlefield but Carter, the New Zealand fly-half, treated it as his playground, not least when he got to the killing zone of the 22. So he missed five kicks at goal? The All Blacks tend to leave winning by kicks to the opposition.

By the end England had joined company with each of the Celtic unions before them as tryless victims of the 2008 All Blacks' autumnal parade. The class of 2005 let in three; the 1978 vintage conceded one, to Scotland.

If we keep on coming back to the World Cup as the test of the world's best then, yes, New Zealand, who have not won one since 1987, are failures. Maybe it is the World Cup which is the failure. If England ever thought that by dint of reaching last year's final in France they were better than Richie McCaw's men – who lost a quarter-final to the hosts (in Cardiff) – there really would be something rotten in the state of Johnno-land.

"It's an 80-minute game," said McCaw, by which he meant all England's efforts in keeping the score to 12-6 after 57 minutes did not amount to a trough of sheep-dip.

McCaw's concession of a penalty early on became a forgotten indiscretion as the home team watched four men troop off to the sin-bin. Losing two was familiar territory to Johnson; the famous goalline stand by the victorious side he captained in Wellington in 2003 was done with a six-man pack, while Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back were off the field. Yesterday's four yellow cards, however, represented an unwelcome England record.

The second went to James Haskell for smashing a leading arm into Rodney So'oialo, a bit of biff in keeping with the "brawl" demanded by the former England scrum-half Matt Dawson on BBC radio with reference to McCaw's history of concussion. To the Kiwis who deride Englishmen as hooray henrys it would have appeared atypically infra dig to encourage such a dig.

Michael Lipman, the Australian-reared England openside flanker, appeared keen on accepting Dawson's dictum. Steve Borthwick, the captain, half-nelsoned Brad Thorn; the scrum-half, Danny Care, smashed Conrad Smith with a late shoulder-charge.

The problem was that when they were not brawling, England were dawdling. Toby Flood skewed a drop at goal wide instead of building on a couple of decent phases; when Haskell made a half-break with the collective force beginning to dissipate at 20-6 down, there was no close support. With ball in hand in England's one first-half visit to the All Black 22, they had Paul Sackey tracing a promising arc but Riki Flutey cut inside and the move died.

Get Carter and friends into the 22 and it is a different and wholly more dynamic story. When the ball squirted out of an England scrum, Jimmy Cowan shipped it along the floor and with a runaround sweeter than a Austin Healey salsa, Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu made a try for Mils Muliaina. The short chip by Carter for Muliaina's second try would have earned applause from Tiger Woods.

"We have got great self-belief, great character," said Carter. His coach, Graham Henry, confessed to scarcely believing the five Test wins on this trip: oh yes, they had beaten Australia in Hong Kong on the way over. Those at the International Rugby Board who favour a return to traditional tours could be on to something. Sending 'em everywhere from Penzance to Galashiels might just grind the bastards down.

Comments