Johnson's men pay penalty for the errors of their ways
England 6 New Zealand 32: Red mists and yellow cards lead to another record defeat.
Sunday 30 November 2008
Not a lot has been heard of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" this autumn but the crowd here gave it full voice, deliberately timed to drown out the haka. That was about as good as it got for England, who attempted to wage a street fight and still ended up on the end of a knuckleduster.
The Red Rose autumn began encouragingly enough with a comfortable win over the Pacific Islanders but it quickly turned into a winter of utter discontent as the three southern-hemisphere heavyweights hit them from one end of Twickenham to the other. Last week England, after earlier being exposed by Australia, suffered a record defeathere to South Africa, 42-6. Yesterday's margin represented a record loss to the All Blacks at Twickenham.
This was supposed to be a new dawn for England, especially under the leadership of the talismanic Martin Johnson, a sort of rugby equivalent of Sir Edmund Hillary. Instead the Hillary Shield went to New Zea-land, and it may be at home there for some time. With Daniel Carter doing what he doesn't do – missing five kicks at goal – the All Blacks, playing their 15th Test of the year, still won away. Against the Springboks England lost the try count 5-0; yesterday it was3-0, but then the Kiwis haven't conceded a try on this Grand Slam tour.
England came out fighting, but that was part of the problem. When they have been up against it, against the Wallabies, the Springboks and the All Blacks, their discipline has been shockingly bad and the penalty count one-sided. You would have thought that againstthe country ranked No 1 in the world they would have learnt a few lessons, but yesterday it was worse than ever. There was another record – four yellow cards – as they conceded 18 penalties to nine.
"I was proud of the effort the team put in after a difficult week," Johnson said. "The sin-bins didn't help, and to have four is pretty unusual. Some of the guys were bewildered as to why they went off, and to play half the match with 14 men obviously makes it difficult. I haven't seenthe incidents."
Most other people did – most importantly the referee, Alain Rolland, who repeatedly lectured the England captain, Steve Borthwick. It didn't have much effect.
The chaotic first half was highlighted, or lowlighted, by Mr Rolland taking centre stage. By the interval it was 10 penalties to New Zealand, five to England, and just before the break the ref, having shown yellow cards to Lee Mears and James Haskell, told Borthwick: "Any more indiscretions and I'll put another four in the bin." Even so, in the second half Toby Flood and the replacement Tom Rees were also sent for 10 minutes' rest as the All Blacks did what comes naturally, pulling clear in the last quarter.
"We put them under pressure but didn't get anything from it," Johnson said. Such sentiments had been expressed before. "We've still got to get better at the breakdown. Test rugby is all about pressure. When we made mistakes they killed us. When they made mistakes we didn't have the composure or execution to score. At times we made them look average, but the last 20 minutes told."
Were the All Blacks fitter? "It's an issue we can improve on," Johnson said. "It wouldn't be good enough to win you the game but it would putyou in a position to do so. After four weeks of Test rugby our guys arepretty exhausted."
England have no excuses. Johnson had his squad together for longer than any previous coach and they still went into this game with New Zealand the 1-33 favourites. Graham Henry, the All Blacks coach who, like the rest of his countrymen, was in mourning last year when they were knocked out of the World Cup, said: "The second half epitomised what we have been doing all season. It showed the backbone of the squad." A Hooray Henry was supposed to be English.
England never got their noses in front and were 12-3 down at half-time, Carter kicking four penalties to one by Flood. There is a fine line between trying to mix it with the All Blacks with the intention of upsetting their game and breaking the law, and England kept crossing it. Jimmy Cowan broke the tedium by throwing a reverse pass from a shambolic England scrum and Mils Muliaina – he had earlier prevented Nick Easter from scoring with an almost posthumous ankle-tap – was over in the right corner.
Carter may not have had his goalkicking boots on but he conjured a moment of magic in the 65th minute when his left foot directeda delicious chip to Muliaina, who scored again. When Tim Payne conceded a turnover deep in their territory the All Blacks sealed their Slam with a try from Ma'a Nonu. Ma'a for marvellous.
Man for man: England
Delon Armitage 6/10
Has the look of a Test full-back at some times, and the look of a man learning all about being a Test full-back at others. Sent Easter away at the start of the second half. One to stick with.
Paul Sackey 6/10
Becalmed, though it wasn't all his fault, particularly when Flood gave him the ball standing still and facing a line of black-shirted muggers. Coshed, he held on. Penalty.
Jamie Noon 6/10
Had a little spell on the flank while Haskell was cooling his heels, which at least made a change from the otherwise ceaseless midfield nastiness.
Riki Flutey 6/10
The man who led the haka for various New Zealand teams took the ball up a couple of times, full of pride and intent, and... got nailed. By Carter.
Ugo Monye 5/10
The winger's lot, under variations and directives and other horrible things, is to kick a lot. This is A Very Bad Thing, but things are as they are and one must kick well. Monye's boot was not on the money.
Toby Flood 6/10
Yellow card, for hugging Cowan round the windpipe, came as Haskell was coming back on. Scrapped and kicked and fought against malign fate. Or something. Didn't kick well, but doesn't deserve a kicking; someone to build around. But probably at inside-centre.
Danny Care 6/10
Tends to slide sideways at breakdowns, looking for a man coming on at pace, and in this side that doesn't always happen, just as against any All Black side it is asking for a hit. Not immune to silly-penalty disease – though which player who has ever played really is – and still one of the brighter sparks in a spluttering side.
Tim Payne 6/10
Caused New Zealand some of his surname in the scrums and emulated Sir Edmund Hillary, the man with naming rights over the match trophy, at one ruck... up over the Tialata foothills, on to scale the north face of McCaw. Old-fashioned.
Lee Mears 6/10
Yellow card for a silly penalty; must have felt left out. Line-outs were good, as they have been all autumn, but in the tight he just wasn't big enough – as he hasn't been all autumn.
Phil Vickery 6/10
Had Woodcock in a bind with his binding, but was bound to bleed, given the bashing he took while leading with his battered old bonce. A chief belligerent when it all turned a bit bloody but he was soon borne, battered, from the battleground. England then ballsed the whole thing up.
Steve Borthwick 6/10
Started looking like a leader on the world stage... if only because the splurge of blood across his schnozz has started to look a bit like Mikhail Gorbachev's birthmark. Captaining a team who give away so many stupid penalties must be doing for what few hairs he has left on his scalp.
Nick Kennedy 6/10
Line-outs good, causing the All Blacks to cut to four men very early on. A former player of basketball – the kind of silly sport where you can't touch anyone at all. Maybe that explains why he's not really a heavy hitter in the tight.
James Haskell 4/10
Second stiff-arm challenge in seven days – on Bryan Habana last Saturday, So'oialo this – proved costly again. Unforgivable, really, because there is no circumstance whatsoever in which that could be the right or legal thing to do. Spent time off the pitch as a result and almost gave away a fourth try later on with an unthinking pass.
Michael Lipman 6/10
Good for a while, although the feeling kinda lingers that if you could genetically splice the Bath man, with his strength and tenacity, with Rees, who has more pace, you'd get... Richie McCaw.
Nick Easter 6/10
The usual two good things, one not so good thing, from big hits and great strength to bad miss-passes and, yes, silly penalties. Was tap-tackled on the verge of a memorable try – it was that kind of afternoon.
Matt Stevens On for Vickery... and a fateful scrum suffered.
Tom Rees On for Lipman... and that fateful scrum suffered. Shown the fourth yellow card.
Harry Ellis On for Care for 20 minutes.
Dylan Hartley On for Mears for 15.
Tom Croft On for Easter in the last quarter. Saved one try. Couldn't save Nonu's, quite.
Dan Hipkiss On for Sackey.
Danny Cipriani On for Flood, looking sheepish.
Man for man: New Zealand
Mils Muliaina 7/10
New Zealand's one-two to knock England out of the game was his, both tries being simple finishes from good work by those inside. Smith, Carter. Good night. His tap tackle stopped Easter scoring at a key time, too.
Joe Rokocoko 6/10
Lovely hands for Nonu's try, the team's third, and then, a minute later, horrible hands fouled up what should have been a fourth try, for... one of about eight support runners.
Conrad Smith 7/10
Relatively unsung compared with Carter and McCaw, but should be subject to all the hymns and arias in the book. Set up the first try, the game-breaker, for Muliaina with a simple straightening of the line and a pass. Such skills, sad to say, seem a little beyond most of the England backs, in the squad and out of it.
Ma'a Nonu 7/10
Clutching at straws time. Croft, sprinting and stretching and clutching – at ankles – nearly caught him on his way to the line. Nearly. Instead, Nonu scored a deserved try.
Sitiveni Sivivatu 6/10
Becalmed, but better than any in England's back three. You can tell that just by the way he catches, kicks and runs.
Dan Carter 7/10
Human after all. Missing a bunch of kicks, the man who averages 20 points a game against England looked almost average for 40 minutes. Then he stepped things up. Threatened every time he got his paws on the ball and it was, predictably, his lovely little kick which put Muliaina in for the full-back's second try.
Jimmy Cowan 7/10
A rather difficult time against Care and, with his scrum under pressure, gave Carter some soap-on-a-ropey passes. Breathed more easily once the game opened up, even with Flood trying for a choke hold.
Tony Woodcock 6/10
A rare species – a man whose neck, wide as a thigh at the base, seems to bulge out further than the back of his head. That said, Vickery had his measure. That said, Stevens didn't. And a try came from that, so he'd done his job.
Keven Mealamu 6/10
Took more and more time over his line-outs after England started mucking about with his locks, and picked a way through the defence late on to set up Nonu's pitch-length try. Clever.
Neemia Tialata 6/10
Struggled a bit in the scrums. That doesn't matter much, as he is a prop built for the current rules – meaning that he's a far busier body around the field than any of his English equivalents.
Brad Thorn 5/10
Opponents can rattle Thorn, who is... wait for it... a prickly bugger. The big leaguer lost it, big time, with Lipman in the first half, slapping him while he was being told off by referee Rolland. Very, very dull behaviour which would earn a a ticking-off at any level. Didn't make much ground in midfield. Line-outs were bad too, though that isn't really his job.
Ali Williams 5/10
Bit of a stinker from the big man whose old man used to play for Blackheath. Line-outs were a bit of a mess, he conceded penalties and he let his partner's problem with discipline get to him too as he got involved most of the second-half skirmishes.
Jerome Kaino 6/10
This big man from American Samoa (as opposed to Western, or Manu) didn't really do anything noticeable, which means he probably did the job of a blindside perfectly well.
Richie McCaw 7/10
Made as many mistakes in the first 20 minutes, and conceded as many penalties, as he must have done all season. Having Lipman locked round his neck didn't help, but being the astonishingly good player he is, the captain sorted himself out and got into the thick of it. Avoided yellow for a blatant ruck penalty late on. Tends to do that, which is precisely why he's so damned good.
Rodney So'oialo 7/10
Stiff-armed by Haskell, used at the front of the shortened lines, stemming the loss of ball. A perfectly solid afternoon's work. No Zinzan Brooke, maybe, but who is?
Kieran Read On for Kaino just before the game broke open, and looked as good as various Kiwis say he is.
John Afoa Replaced Tialata at the same time; the scrum stabilised.
Anthony Boric Replaced Thorn.
Isaia Toeava Replaced Smith.
Piri Weepu On for Cowan for the last 10 minutes.
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