England vs New Zealand: Five things England coach Stuart Lancaster must learn from All Blacks defeat

Positives can be taken from the 21-24 loss at Twickenham but only if Lancaster learns the right lessons

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Stick to this back row and give them time to become a proper unit

Billy Vunipola is still learning that, at the highest level, his power game will not carry him far enough but look at the contrast in experience between the two units – England’s trio started with 68 caps against the 258 of their opponents.

Every time Vunipola faces the likes of Kieran Read, he will understand more about the international  No 8’s all-round game.

But that experience allows New Zealand to leave their back row roaming free. How often do Read or Jerome Kaino turn up on the wide outside whereas England’s back row prefers to play the game at closer quarters? The time has come for Vunipola, Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood to build together and establish the kind of understanding that comes naturally to the Kiwis.

Give George Ford more game time at fly-half

Before this match, it was easy to raise an eyebrow at the selection of Owen Farrell at fly-half. Not through doubts over his temperament or ability, but because he went in against the world’s number-one team having played only 184 minutes of rugby this season and only one full game for Saracens. Added to which, if George Ford is to shadow Farrell, he needs significantly more game time.


But Farrell did everything Lancaster wanted. As ever, he made his tackles, he kicked his penalties to give England their half-time lead, and his tactical kicking was sound; even the most ardent Bath fan could not argue that Ford would have done better. But Ford must be given a start at some stage this autumn; no-one knows where or when injury may strike or whether Farrell will remain immune. The good thing is that Farrell will be better for this outing when he runs on against South Africa this coming weekend.

Little can beat large in midfield

Kyle Eastmond v Sonny Bill Williams? It seemed an unfair comparision so great is the difference in the physical dimensions of the two players, Eastmond at 5ft 7in and 12st 3lb, Williams 6ft 3in and 17st. But of the two, Eastmond enjoyed the more impressive game, even when England spent so much of the second half on the back foot, and he indicated genuine kicking ability at the same time.

Sonny Bill Williams had a sizeable advantage over Kyle Eastmond

He was slated after the third Test with NZ last summer for alleged defensive frailties but has shown the character to return and give the much-feted Williams short change. Indeed Williams, welcomed back to the All Blacks midfield against the USA last weekend, found himself in a real rugby match, hustled hither and yon and unable to get his attacking game to work.

He has the squad depth to cope with injuries

Lancaster had confidence that his chosen XV would compete, even when he saw Courtney Lawes added to his long list of second-row absentees. England started this game unable to choose Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling and Ed Slater, and Lawes left in the first half with a big lump on his head. But George Kruis shone coming on for his first cap and there was little wrong with England’s set-piece work, so the front row is in credit too.

Kruis shows England do have squad depth

Indeed, this match will send a warning to all England’s rivals at next year’s World Cup about strength in depth. The greatest problem remains the best option in midfield, which will give England a better cutting edge. They simply cannot pile all their eggs into the Manu Tuilagi basket, if only because the still youthful Leicester centre has a worrying tendency to be injured at the wrong time. 

He should keep faith in this team for the game against South Africa

The XV that played the world’s best deserve a crack at the global number two next weekend. Yet change there will probably have to be, assuming that Lawes is concussed and unavailable; that will give Kruis his first start and may give Graham Kitchener a place on the bench.

Kitchener’s Leicester colleague, Dan Cole, is due to make his comeback from a long-term injury in an LV= Cup game on Sunday but the tighthead prop cannot be considered by England yet. Mike Brown, at full-back, was not at his most potent but he has plenty of credit in the bank.