The rain, given a silver sheen by Twickenham’s state-of-the-art lighting system, lashed down. It was time for the All Blacks to get down and dirty. Reduced to 14 men, they refused to recoil, and applied the sort of pressure which punishes bodies and scrambles brains.
They did what world champions do, imposed their collective will and found a way to win. They used adversity as an ally, and cherished the challenge to their authority. Their fifth successive victory over England was a strident statement of intent.
When the All Blacks return to the old cabbage patch next autumn, their defence of the World Cup will be underway. England’s fractured squad will have another season’s experience before they carry an expectant nation on broad shoulders, and must pray that the attritional nature of international rugby does not further deplete them.
Sport these days can be articulated statistically, but no numbers have greater relevance than the contrasting totals of caps won by yesterday’s squads: the All Blacks had made 1,023 collective appearances compared to England’s 437.
England 21 New Zealand 24 player ratings
England 21 New Zealand 24 player ratings
1/32 Mike Brown - 7
Mike Brown – At his reliable best, but lacked a cutting edge with the ball in hand that we’ve come to expect. Solid would be an appropriate word
2/32 Semesa Rokodugani - 5
Non-existent with the ball given England didn’t know how to get him into the game. Useful in defence, but replaced after 62 minutes on his debut
3/32 Brad Barritt
He’s definitely not a 13, and it showed as he lacked the imagination and creativity they desperately needed
4/32 Kyle Eastmond – 6
Gave away three needless penalties in the first half but coped well thereafter. A tough ask to mark Williams, but manned up to the task
5/32 Jonny May – 8
Scored an unforgettable 50m try to light up Twickenham. His best performance yet of a very young and promising career
6/32 Owen Farrell – 6
His decision making was strong and kicking for goal as reliable as ever. Tactical kicking still needs perfecting though and it puts England under pressure
7/32 Danny Care – 6
Not at his sniping best but came to life when England were on the front-foot. Replaced by Youngs with 20 minutes to go to show he wasn’t firing on all cylinders
8/32 Joe Marler – 6
His scrummaging was good and tried to impose on the All Blacks’ pack when he carried, but Lancaster will still want more from the Harlequins captain
9/32 Dylan Hartley – 6
A constant nuisance, although the penalty for a high tackle on Cruden was slightly harsh. Lucky that he wasn’t caught by Coles’ kick. Lineout ball was of the highest calibre
10/32 David Wilson – 7
He’s performing admirably in the long-term absence of Dan Cole, and he can be happy with his performance, having scrummed well. Replaced by Brookes late on
11/32 Dave Attwood – 8
One of England’s standout players, he was strong in stealing New Zealand ball at the line-out and ran for good yards. Fatherhood appears to suit him
12/32 Courtney Lawes - 5
Lasted just 20 minutes after suffering a concussion, but his first-minute hit on Sonny Bill Williams set the tone
13/32 Tom Wood – 7
His mud-stained, blood-splattered shirt told the story, and that was only after 30 minutes. Mammoth work-rate at the breakdown, but New Zealand just squeezed him out of the game
14/32 Chris Robshaw – 6
His decision making will come into question once again as he went for scrums at the death with time against England. Looked out of gas by the end, but you can’t question his commitment
15/32 Billy Vunipola – 7
Ran hard for 53 minutes but is yet to put in a performance like that against the All Blacks two years ago. Took a heavy hit just before he was replaced
Rob Webber – Good impact in late push. 6 Matt Mullan – Picked up where Marler left off in the scrum. 6 Kieran Brookes – Big shove late on helped earn penalty try.6 George Kruis – Missed tackle led to McCaw try, but will learn. 5 Ben Morgan – Tried to carry England forward, to little avail. 6 Ben Youngs – Thrown on behind a pack going backwards. 5 George Ford – Try-saving tackle on Williams was impressive. 7 Anthony Watson – Little chance to impress on debut. 6
17/32 Israel Dagg – 4
Shaky again after his last outing against England, poor pass nearly robbed McCaw of second-half try
18/32 Ben Smith – 7
On another day he could have had two tries. As it was, a constant thorn in England’s side and hugely talented on the ground and in the air
19/32 Conrad Smith – 6
Showed his age for the first time as May burned him on the outside for opening try. Had an unusually quiet game, though is handling was as beautiful as ever
20/32 Sonny Bill Williams – 7
Enjoyed two barrelling runs, and his fist-minute one-handed offload in his own 22 summed up his desire to entertain. Nearly scored had it not been for Ford
21/32 Julian Savea – 6
Nailed Rokoduguni to welcome him to international rugby and charged over Barritt as if he wasn’t there. Got a heavy hit back from his opposite wing, and at last England managed to stop him from scoring
22/32 Aaron Cruden – 6
First-half try should have been chalked off as he grounded the ball short of the line, and his kicking was wayward in tricky conditions. Brought off after 60 minutes
23/32 Aaron Smith – 7
Wood and Vunipola kept him honest, but linked up well when All Blacks were on the attack
24/32 Wyatt Crockett – 7
Enjoyed his battle with Wilson with both enjoying success. Brought off for Ben Franks when the job was done
25/32 Dane Coles – 6
Correctly sin-binned for lashing out at Hartley only to kick Care in error. Has shown previous to let his aggression get the better of him, and must cut it out – even if he is being pulled to ground by the opposition
26/32 Owen Franks – 8
Has become a crucial player for the All Blacks and gives them a solid platform to attack from in the forwards. Second-half break set-up McCaw’s try
27/32 Sam Whitelock – 6
Nearly managed to poach himself a try, and looked bemused when it wasn’t awarded. Has bags of talent in so many areas, although he’ll be disappointed with the line-out disruption
28/32 Brodie Retallick – 7
Brought off at half-time with a shoulder injury, and will be a big miss if he misses the rest of the tour
29/32 Jerome Kaino – 7
Barrelling run in the first half produced Cruden’s try and his physicality in defence borders on the scary. Sacrificed for Mealamu when Coles was sin-binned
30/32 Richie McCaw – 9
Mr All Black was at his best as he constantly turned over English ball. Deserved his try which he did well to catch, and looked like a man who knew he’d always win come the final whistle
31/32 Kieran Read – 7
England did their best to keep him quiet but he continuously popped up lurking around the dangerous Savea
Kevin Mealamu – Brought his experience to help All Blacks cope with 14-men. 6 Ben Franks – Didn’t cope with the fresh England front-row come the end of the match. 5 Charlie Faumuina – Spotted the smallest of gaps that a prop could fit through to score. 7 Patrick Tuipulotu – Introduced at half-time and put in some hefty tackles. 7 Liam Messam – Wasn’t given long due to the sin-bin. 6 T J Perenara – Didn’t show anything to suggest he’ll usurp Smith anytime soon. 5 Beauden Barrett – Kicking was poor but the weather played a big part. 5 Ryan Crotty – All Blacks didn’t enjoy any possession when he came on. 5
They ran like cheetahs when permitted, but had the survival instincts of cockroaches when it mattered. They were as streetwise as a mugger lingering in the shadows, yet were as accomplished as a master craftsman, seeking perfection in the privacy of his workshop.
Nothing is taken for granted. Their natural resilience was, as ever, embodied by the game’s definitive character, their captain Richie McCaw. He retains the underdog’s hunger after 135 Test matches, spread over 14 uniquely punishing years.
His legend is secure, having won the last World Cup on a broken foot. His legacy seems similarly assured. When he looked around, after hooker Dane Coles had been sent to the sin bin, he saw “the excitement in the boys’ eyes. They had an extra bounce. It’s just flicking a switch”.
If imitation really is the most sincere form of flattery, the All Blacks are in a position to bathe in the warm glow of peer recognition. The problem, for their rivals, is they view such fripperies as utterly irrelevant. They are all about the ruthless imposition of accustomed superiority.
They needed no mascots, choral chariots or balls of fire to embellish their introduction. They were there for business, even if the sacred symbolism of the haka was eroded by an emboldened record crowd, which bellowed England’s misappropriated spiritual anthem, Swing Low, in a populist gesture of defiance.
It was all a bit Disneyland, and the disrespect was guaranteed to needle the visitors. The irony, that England are making a conscious attempt to place lessons from the world champions into an emerging culture, was lost on them, but the impertinence will not be forgotten.
Lancaster has empowered leadership groups in his squad, to induct newcomers. He has encouraged All Black gestures of humility, such as senior players sweeping the dressing-rooms. Perspective is all. Debutant Semesa Rokoduguni derived his from his first week in active service in Afghanistan, when a marine he accompanied on patrol stepped on a mine and lost his legs.
These are not England footballers, media-trained and pre-programmed to recycle banalities and emit empty rallying cries. They are grown-up athletes, trusted to articulate their ambition and put sport into a deeper, more emotionally intelligent context. They work in a mature environment, in which team-mates can discuss the emotional impact of becoming new fathers, and translate the overwhelming sense of responsibility and privilege they feel into their performance.
Twickenham’s £70 million makeover has given them an appropriate stage, but the culture of marginal gains can take them only so far if the basics are not applied with consistency of purpose.
These are the matches in which proverbs come to life. The Maori saying “a little water seeping through a small hole may swamp a canoe” embodies the importance of the All Blacks’ unthinking unity and attention to detail.
We dwell, understandably enough, on the gladiatorial, the physical. Yet Test matches involve the application of mental strength. Clarity of thought is critical; decision making when the body is protesting and the brain is racing must be sharp and unerring.
England had started spectacularly through Jonny May’s try, a fusion of instinct, incision and adventure which saw him speed down the left-hand touchline and outside of the covering defender Israel Dagg.
Of course, through the prism of the All Blacks’ aura, May’s moment of ultimate fulfilment looked a little different. “He won’t get too many softer tries,” their coach Steve Hansen observed. For good measure he dismissed the theory of psychological advantage as “baloney”.
The sight of England coach Stuart Lancaster with both hands clasped to his head soon afterwards, after Mike Brown spilled what seemed sure to be a scoring pass following sustained pressure on the visitors’ line, was symbolic of a significantly squandered opportunity.
England duly had the life squeezed out of them by a bunch of human anacondas. Now they face the Springboks, who found a way to beat the All Blacks. “We’re not far away,” Lancaster insisted, but as the world peered through the curtain of rain, the gap seemed to stretch to infinity and beyond.Reuse content