Lancaster's new model England turn the All Blacks upside down
Tuilagi takes up the challenge to humble world champions with record-margin defeat
During England's years of revolution in the 1640s, balladeers sang of a "world turned upside down". A single victory – not even a victory of record-breaking proportions over opponents as formidable as New Zealand – does not amount to a revolution on the rugby fields of the red-rose country but, by turning the world champions on their heads and sending them home in an advanced state of disorientation, Stuart Lancaster's players have sparked all manner of unrest and at least raised the possibility that things will never be the same again.
Suddenly, England could barely care less that they are not among the seeds for their own World Cup in 2015. When the draw for that tournament is made this afternoon at the Tate Modern – until recently the home of Damien Hirst's works in formaldehyde, an embalming agent thought to have been widely used at the Rugby Football Union for many years – South Africa, Australia, France and the dear old All Blacks themselves will not care either… just as long as they are in a different pool to the host nation.
Perhaps Kieran Read, the pick of the All Blacks on view at Twickenham despite being directly responsible for the third of the tries England put past his team in the space of nine exhilarating second-half minutes, was the man who hit the nail most squarely on the head.
"This one hurts and it will keep hurting for a while," said the No 8 from Papakura, one of the principal contributors to a 20-match unbeaten run that reached its end on Saturday.
"But if you're going to lose, you want to lose to a side playing well. And Jeez, we ran into a side playing well out there. Tactically, they were spot on. Credit where credit's due: they understood what they needed to do to win that game."
First and foremost, the man responsible for that understanding was Lancaster, whose suitability to run the England show remains, unfathomably, an open debate in some quarters. The head coach began the preparations by offering reassurance to his captain, Chris Robshaw, after the previous week's loss to the Springboks and its poisonous aftermath.
He made a calm, realistic assessment of the New Zealand threat and the best method of countering it; he raised the emotional temperature on the eve of the game by asking three people – two departing members of the back-room staff and a personal friend suffering from a life-threatening illness – to present the shirts to the players; and was bang on the money with his substitutions during the second half of the contest, when all hell broke loose. Short of scoring the 38 match-winning points himself, he could have done no more.
Lancaster insists he is "far too Cumbrian" to fall victim to mood swings, but he admitted afterwards that he had been under some heat following the narrow defeats by Australia and South Africa. "You feel the pressure," he said. "You feel the need to get a win that will give the people watching us some clarity in terms of what we're trying to do. But, in the end, I have complete confidence in our direction of travel.
"If you have a good culture, good coaches and good players, and you're prepared to work hard, the results will come. We have all three components, and we work extremely hard."
If the razzle-dazzle of the second half will live longest in the memory – who will forget the sight of Manu Tuilagi, the human bowling ball, rolling slowly towards the All Black line for the wrap-up score, having picked Read's misdirected pass out of the air and disappeared into the wide blue yonder? – the foundations of victory were laid in a first-half performance that bordered on the faultless.
With the aggressive Tom Wood in full warpaint and the magisterial Dan Cole contesting the tackle ball with a cold-eyed fury, the England pack subjected their opponents to a lockout.
Try as he might, the great silver-ferned flanker Richie McCaw could not impose his will on proceedings and, as a result, that other modern titan, Daniel Carter, was lost in a mist of hesitation and muddle-headedness. As the England forwards grew to their full size, their opponents shrank.
Has the World Cup-winning front row of Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Owen Franks ever looked so small? Not since they were in their high chairs, dribbling custard down their chests.
Owen Farrell, every bit as a abrasive as Wood, kicked a dozen points over the course of those opening 40 minutes – a tryless half that tasted of nectar to the connoisseur. The All Blacks were always going to respond at some stage, and tries in short order by Julian Savea and Read, the second of them beautifully constructed by Cory Jane and Conrad Smith, brought them back to within a point. Which was where that first stanza of forward-dominated rugby paid its dividend.
"You pretty much know that the All Blacks will hurt you somewhere along the way," said Chris Ashton, the England wing. "But when they hurt us this time, we were still ahead. I remember looking at the scoreboard when Read scored and thinking: 'Hang on a mo, we're still a point up. We can still do this'."
And so it transpired. Almost immediately, the ever-willing Robshaw drove deep into the New Zealanders' midfield defence and gave Brad Barritt a run in space. Smith, possibly believing the Saracens centre was no more likely to make an individual break now than at any other moment in his Test career, gambled on closing down the outside man… and gambled wrong. Barritt tore through the hole and exchanged passes with Tuilagi to claim his first points in an England shirt.
From 20-14 on 53 minutes, England went to 32-14 after 61. Tuilagi, running really hot now, embarrassed Carter and McCaw in a broken-field stampede before freeing Ashton on a glory run to the line, and then topped and tailed it with his interception score.
Maybe the wolfish smile on his face during the pre-match Haka should have given us a clue to what lay ahead. "I enjoyed that bit," he remarked. "When I looked into the eyes of my opposite number, I was saying: 'Right, I accept your challenge. Let's play some rugby.'" Scary.
So complete was England's control that Freddie Burns, making his debut off the bench, played the substitute outside-half role as a millionaire might play the tables in Monte Carlo.
"The thing with this set-up," he said, grinning from ear to ear, "is that you're made to feel a part of it straight away. You're not an outcast: if you're invited in, people listen to your ideas and take you seriously." This is the culture Lancaster has created. Like his team on Saturday, he has played a blinder.
England: Tries Barritt, Ashton, Tuilagi; Conversion Farrell;Penalties: Farrell 4, Burns 2. Drop goal: Farrell. New Zealand: Tries: Savea 2, Read. Conversions: Carter 2, Cruden.
England Replacements: J Haskell (Wasps) for Morgan, 57; F Burns (Gloucester) for Farrell 63; J Joseph (London Irish) for Tuilagi, 66; M Vunipola (Saracens) for Corbisiero, 66; C Lawes (Northampton) for Launchbury, 66; D Care (Harlequins) for B Youngs, 68; D Paice (London Irish) for T Youngs, 72; D Wilson (Bath) for Cole, 72; Cole for Wood, 78.
New Zealand Replacements: L Romano (Canterbury) for Retallick, 48; C Faumuina (Auckland) for Franks, 52; D Coles (Wellington) for Mealamu 62; V Vito (Wellington) for Messam, 62; A Cruden (Manawatu) for Carter, 63; P Weepu (Wellington) for A Smith, 63; W Crockett (Canterbury) for Woodcock, 66; B Smith (Otago) for Dagg, 70.
Referee G Clancy (Ireland).
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