Well, now we know for certain that England can lift the World Cup in November. The wins against the three southern-hemisphere giants last autumn were good, but they were at Twickenham, while the victory in Dublin was significant but still quite close to home.
Yesterday's success had all the right ingredients, and it confirms that England are the best team in the game at the moment. More importantly, it means they are in with a real shout at the World Cup.
Psychologically, England will have received a massive boost from this tight win. Let's not forget that the All Blacks are a seriously good side, who don't often lose at home. For a team that were supposed to be incapable of winning on their travels, England looked strong and confident. Of course, there are still areas to work on, but overall this was an impressive display.
Defensively, I thought England were awesome. They scrapped and fought for every inch, and every man really gave his all. There were plenty of great individual performances, with Jonny Wilkin- son as solid as ever and Kyran Bracken providing great cover for Matt Dawson, but my man of the match was Lawrence Dallaglio. I felt he was immense, particularly in his ball-carrying and spoiling skills. If there is a better No 8 in the world at the moment, I haven't seen him.
If Dallaglio summed up all that was brilliant about the players, then the 10 minutes when he and Neil Back were in the sin-bin epitomised England's desire. That period could easily have seen New Zealand run riot and leave England behind, but instead it was Clive Woodward's men who grew stronger. The longer the All Blacks went without breaking down the visitors' resolute defence, the more disenchanted they became. England sensed this, and it is to their credit that they kept the most fearsome attack-ing force at bay for so long.
The tackling and scrummaging augur well for next week's Test against Australia. England will probably have to play more fluently if they want to defeat the Wallabies, but that is something that is well within their capabilities. They now have a week to look back at the video and plan new things, and they should not feel at all panicked.
For England, I believe it is a case of one step at a time. Yesterday was all about win-ning, to prove to themselves that the southern hemisphere is not quite so inhospitable a place. With that important notch on their belts, England can now believe in themselves more and play their traditional game next week.
Following this defensive display, I would expect a more adventurous approach in Australia. England know that they will never have the same amount of possession that they enjoy in northern- hemisphere matches, but they are still getting plenty of the ball, and should not be afraid to use it. England have done the hard work by proving their durability; now they should go out there and try to enjoy themselves a bit more. They are certainly capable of playing good rugby.
Credit for England's amazing form should also go to Clive Woodward. I admit I questioned the logic of this tour. I was especially worried about Wilkinson being taken so far away and risking injury after such a long season. But I was wrong. Yesterday's match was the perfect way for England and their best players to flex their muscles. Had the big guns stayed behind, there would have been room for excuses. Now, there is nothing but self-belief.
- More about:
- All Blacks
- Lawrence Dallaglio
- Mark Tucker
- Richmond, London
- Southern Hemisphere (rugby)