It smells like team spirit
The two England teams to have won a Test match in New Zealand were dubbed by the local press the “white tornadoes” in 1973 and “white orcs on steroids” in 2003. The class of 2014 lost yesterday but there was no white flag, and despite the enforced changes in personnel, England’s basic systems mostly stayed sound. When there was a rare example of the first wave of blitz defence being beaten – at the start of the second half – the scramble was brilliant. Chris Robshaw’s squad are tuned in and turned on by next year’s World Cup.
If he had stayed on, it might have been Burns’ night
The midfield combination of Freddie Burns and Kyle Eastmond (pictured) looked good against Argentina this time last year, and worked well again in Auckland to allow Manu Tuilagi to show his world class at outside- centre. Burns coped with the threat of Ma’a Nonu and maintained his discipline in possession, while his kicking from hand (one early error excepted) was matched by four out of four from the tee. But England’s head coach, Stuart Lancaster, chose to substitute the fly-half with 10 minutes left, Danny Cipriani was sent on, and though he won and kicked a penalty to level at 15-15, he and England subsequently missed two opportunities to kick downfield and pin New Zealand back. A lapse mentioned by Lancaster, post-match.
Forward blocks to build on
Graham Rowntree, the England forwards coach, must have enjoyed even the river water that passes for New Zealand beer last night after strong displays by both the scrum and line-out. Poor Joe Marler didn’t deserve to be the man lunging unsuccessfully to prevent Conrad Smith’s winning try, after a titanic 80 minutes in the front row by the Harlequins loosehead prop. Ben Morgan’s short-side break off a defensive scrum, followed up by Eastmond’s Jason Robinson-esque sidestep, was one of the moments of England’s season. And if it could be observed with a critical eye that this was one of five try “chances” that went unfinished by England, for them to have five to New Zealand’s two was remarkable in itself.
Changes for the better
Those England wins in 1973 and 2003 came in one-off Tests, so there was no All Black backlash to worry about, unlike this three-Test series. Kieran Read at No 8 and Julian Savea on the wing could be brought in as high-powered reinforcements for the home side, but England will be itching for the rematch and Lancaster must select wisely from the 10 or so regular starters present only as spectators at Eden Park yesterday. “The players have known the score since the start of the tour,” said Lancaster, suggesting that the likes of Owen Farrell, Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes and Dylan Hartley are slated to come back in.
Lancaster holding his own
England will enjoy the home advantage at the 2015 World Cup that may have been worth a yellow card either way yesterday. But they know New Zealand are the benchmark, and Lancaster has made it his mission to go after them, studying the world champions and world’s No 1 ranked team in every aspect: tactics, culture, heritage, you name it. In the respective head coaches’ personal head-to-head – the three meetings of 2012, 2013 and 2014 – it is 2-1 to the All Blacks’ Steve Hansen, with three to go before the World Cup: Dunedin and Hamilton on this trip, and Twickenham in November.