New Zealand 36 England 13 match report: Super Julian Savea quick to put England to the sword
New Zealand wing scores two early tries and a late one to condemn tourists to series blackwash
The shortest day of the year in New Zealand turned into a long dark night of the soul for England as Julian Savea, their chief tormentor, set about winning the third Test of a fascinating three-match series pretty much single-handedly. If the tourists were spared the worst consequences of a dire first-half performance – to their credit, they were infinitely more combative after the interval and dominated for long spells – it was still a wrenching experience for them.
Over the two-and-a-half years of Stuart Lancaster’s stewardship, England’s worst moments have come in a rush: by leaking big points quickly against the Springboks in Johannesburg; against France in Paris; and twice against the New Zealanders – at Twickenham before Christmas and in Dunedin eight days ago – they put themselves under the most enormous pressure imaginable. There was a good deal of discussion about the fault line in the days before this game, yet the message failed to register. Savea could have bagged three tries in the first 13 minutes.
As it turned out, he bagged only a brace during that profoundly dispiriting spell. But two touchdowns against the most passive of defences inside the first nine minutes – his sixth and seventh against the Red Rose in four outings, a tally bordering on the Lomu-esque – were comfortably enough to send England into a downward spiral that lasted the whole of the opening period. When it was over, they were 29-6 down and staring squarely in the face of an inevitable blackwash.
Judging by the way the world champions approached the initial exchanges, a fully tuned-in England would have struggled to hold them. The peerless Kieran Read, back at No 8 after some worrying brushes with concussion, made the odd slip, but some of his touch play was exceptional. The two Smiths, full-back Ben and scrum-half Aaron, were quicker than their opponents in thought and deed; Malakai Fekitoa, the new outside-centre, had some real horsepower about him; and Brodie Retallick, spectacularly good in the first two Tests, was… well, spectacular again.
But England made it easy for them and Kyle Eastmond, the inexperienced Bath centre promoted above Billy Twelvetrees for this last hurrah, was the symbol of a wholly uncharacteristic exercise in horizontal pacifism. The well-worn phrase “rabbit in the headlights” did not begin to reflect the degree of his panic or the depth of his discomfort.
Lancaster withdrew him at the break, partly to shore up a midfield that was being cut to ribbons and partly to spare the poor man further punishment. If Eastmond recovers from this trauma any time soon, he will prove himself a tougher sort than he appeared yesterday.
Not that he was alone in being wiped out by the All Blacks, who began the game in search of a record-equalling 17th successive Test victory and achieved their hearts’ desire with two-thirds of the contest still to unfold. Freddie Burns started the match with an error of the schoolboy variety – his kick-off failed to travel the requisite 10 metres – and then missed a relatively straightforward opportunity to put England ahead with a penalty from centre field. Mike Brown, Joe Launchbury, Dylan Hartley, Billy Vunipola, Marland Yarde; each of them had their knicker-twisting moments in a grim opening quarter, and even though Burns hit the spot with two subsequent shots at goal, the respite was all too brief.
Savea, a supremely threatening runner who somehow combines power and elegance in equal measure, was not forced to show the best of himself in laying the foundations for victory. His opening try in the fourth minute owed much to the quick thinking of Aaron Smith, but it was still too simple by half. His second, less than five minutes later, needed a little more scoring – he had to hold a difficult pass before stepping inside off his wing for the finish – but the “after you, Claude” style of defending in the build-up was too alarming for words.
While his hat-trick initially went begging – he would not complete it until the last passage of play – Aaron Smith was able to carry on the good work. When Yarde missed the effervescent Cory Jane tight to the touchline, the scrum-half was on hand to nail the opportunity by sliding in at the right corner. Then, as Ben Smith found a way past Burns, he picked the right support line to take a one-handed lay-off, thereby matching Savea try for try.
There were ructions in the England dressing room at the interval, and rightly so; Lancaster might have made half-a-dozen changes rather than just the one. Whatever was said had an effect. England were barely recognisable in terms of the intensity they generated from the restart, the All Blacks suddenly found they were the ones making mistakes by the cartload, and Yarde claimed a defiant try from close range following excellent work from Launchbury, Ben Youngs and Manu Tuilagi.
Yarde went on to have himself a ball: time and again his instincts guided him into space and allowed him to ask serious questions of the All Black defence. But the tourists blew the half-chances that came their way and at the death it was Savea who sailed off into the distance after another assist from Jane.
It was an unpleasant last kick in the teeth for England, but it was also entirely appropriate.
New Zealand: B Smith; C Jane, M Fekitoa (R Crotty, 63), M Nonu, J Savea; A Cruden (B Barrett, 44), A Smith (T J Perenara, 74); T Woodcock (W Crockett, 63), D Coles (K Mealamu, 44), O Franks (C Faumuina, 58), B Retallick (P Tuipulotu, 76), S Whitelock, J Kaino (Woodcock, 74), R McCaw (capt), K Read (L Messam, h-t).
England: M Brown; C Ashton, M Tuilagi, K Eastmond (L Burrell, h-t), M Yarde; F Burns (D Cipriani, 59), B Youngs (L Dickson, 71); J Marler (M Mullan, 65), D Hartley (R Webber, 58), D Wilson (K Brookes, 56), J Launchbury (D Attwood, 21-26, 65), C Lawes, T Wood, C Robshaw (capt), B Vunipola (B Morgan, 56).
Referee: Jérôme Garces (France).
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