New Zealand 20 England 15: Stuart Lancaster admits ‘now we must bottle that frustration and use it positively’
England head coach issues rallying call to his troops after England suffer late defeat to the All Blacks
England have never won a Test series in New Zealand – their two triumphs in All Black country, 30 years apart, were one-off affairs – but despite a narrow, agonisingly late defeat at Eden Park yesterday, Stuart Lancaster’s men believe they have an even-money chance of creating history.
The under-strength tourists made the world champions sweat profusely for their 20-15 victory, leaving the head coach in a positive frame of mind ahead of next weekend’s pivotal match in the South Island outpost of Dunedin.
“That game will be huge for us,” Lancaster said after watching his side fall to a 78th-minute corner-flag try from Conrad Smith, the All Blacks’ midfield maestro. “We want to take this series to a decider in Hamilton and we want to go there with absolute faith in our ability to win it.
“I’m desperately disappointed that we’ve lost here, having fought so hard to stay in the contest for so long, but there’s a bigger picture we’re looking at and I’m extremely proud of our effort.”
Yet the coach also recognised that this was a rare opportunity spurned. “It’s definitely a chance missed,” he acknowledged. “When you get to 15-all in the last few minutes, it’s all about territory, about how you manage things in order to close out the game.
“We had opportunities to pile pressure on the All Blacks, so the overriding feeling right now is one of frustration that we didn’t get across the line. What we must do now is bottle that frustration and use it positively over the next few days.”
The All Blacks, playing their first game since completing a perfect 2013 campaign by beating Ireland in the most dramatic of fashions before Christmas with an injury-time try in Dublin, explained away their difficulties by pointing to a large degree of ring-rust. But Steve Hansen, their head coach, was generous enough to credit England too.
“After the first 80 minutes of rugby, it seems they’re not a bad side,” he said, firing a volley at those local pundits who had confidently predicted a landslide victory for the world champions against a side missing two-thirds of their elite line-up. “I’ve been trying to tell you that.”
Hansen felt the referee, Nigel Owens of Wales, could have speeded up proceedings by ordering the England players to head straight for the line-outs, rather than allowing them to pause for lengthy discussions en route. “We want to play a game that challenges people aerobically,” he remarked.
But he also accepted that his side would have to find an improvement of between 30 and 40 per cent ahead of the Dunedin Test in order to tie up the series with a match to spare.
Both coaches were impressed by the decisive intervention as the clock ticked down of Aaron Cruden, the New Zealand outside-half, who set up the position for the crucial try by rejecting a penalty shot in favour of a tap-and-go attack.
“It was a brave call, that’s for sure,” Lancaster said through gritted teeth, while Hansen congratulated his playmaker for showing the courage to “take the game by the scruff of the neck” and do something different.
“Logic says he should have kicked the goal and put us three points in front,” the New Zealander said, “but Aaron took an option that was there for him to take, and by doing that he changed the game. We were pretty calm about it in the coaches’ box because we’re fully supportive of players who are bold enough to try things.”
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