New Zealand 28 England 27: All Blacks’ masterful success is a matter of mind over muscle

Lancaster will seek in vain for a magic wand to develop similar experience

Dunedin

An unusually wise man once described simplicity as “the ultimate sophistication” and, while there is no firm evidence that Leonardo da Vinci ever had the good fortune to watch the All Blacks play the rugby of the gods, the point is well made in their connection.

The three tries New Zealand put past England in the space of 20 spellbinding minutes in Dunedin on Saturday confirmed, as if confirmation were needed, that at its highest expression the union code remains a sport of mind over muscle.

It is not quite true to say that the tourists offered nothing but brawn while the world champions had the monopoly on brains, but for the whole of the third quarter – so often the exclusive preserve of outstanding New Zealand sides – and the first few minutes of the fourth, England did not have the foggiest idea what was being done to them by whom, or for what reason.

The fact that Stuart Lancaster’s charges responded with two late tries and somehow finished within a point of their hosts at 28-27 is another story entirely – a creditable one, to be sure, but of questionable relevance.

All of which begs a serious question of England as they move ever closer to next year’s home World Cup: does Lancaster possess enough players blessed with the rugby intellect to out-think opponents as clever as, say, the three unrelated Smiths who have made such a startling impact on the current three-Test series? A series already lost with one to play, it should be added.

The scrum-half Aaron Smith, such an influential figure in the opening match in Auckland, did not wield the whip to quite the same effect here in the South Island, although he looked extremely good at times. There again, he could afford a night off.

 The multi-tasking full-back Ben Smith was, according to Lancaster, the “difference between the two sides”, while the centre Conrad Smith cut so many geometrically precise lines, and ran them with such exquisite timing, that any lingering argument over the identity of the world’s best No 13 was rendered null and void.

Throw in an outside-half as street-smart as Aaron Cruden and a powerhouse wing who combines ferocity with finesse as captivatingly as Julian Savea and you have quite a back division. And we have yet to mention Ma’a Nonu, who might be described as a billionaire’s version of the much-vaunted Northampton midfielder Luther Burrell, or Beauden Barrett, a substitute playmaker who would not spend too much of his career slumming it on the England bench… or, indeed, a character by the name of Daniel Carter, who ended his sabbatical at the weekend with an outing for Southbridge, his hometown club in rural Canterbury.

When the All Blacks set the game ablaze in the minutes after half-time, England melted away like cheap candlewax. And if the red-rose hierarchy are honest with themselves, as they must be, can they legitimately argue that Owen Farrell, furiously combative but clearly ready for a long rest, has the skill set to flummox opponents in the way Cruden did in creating the first New Zealand try for Ben Smith? Or that any midfielder in this vast tour party of 47 players might run the angle that allowed Conrad Smith to free Nonu for the third touchdown? England have not had that kind of weapon in their outside-centre armoury since Jeremy Guscott packed it in, a decade and a half ago.

None of this is to belittle the parts of the game that went well for the visitors. Teams do not smash the All Blacks out of their stride from the kick-off, go 10 points up with well-executed plays straight off the training field and put themselves in a position to turn round 17-3 to the good – as they surely would have done had Manu Tuilagi been enough of a sprinter to maximise his own lone-wolf attack from 80 metres out – without doing something right.

But as Lancaster acknowledged yesterday after re-running the game on the video, chewing the fat with his fellow coaches and then watching it over again, the clean, uncluttered simplicity of the All Blacks’ attacking game, executed at extreme pace, is devilishly difficult to emulate.

“I think individual talent comes into the equation,” he said. “When you replay the match, you see there were certain people performing at the highest level. A lot of the big-game players turned up for them and when the opportunities came, they took them.

“I’d like to think there is a magic wand I could wave to develop the kind of experience that might move our decision-making forward, but I don’t suppose there is such a thing. I look at the strides we’ve taken, but I recognise we have further to go.

“When you’re dealing with players who are in single figures in terms of caps, you support them as best you can and do everything to ensure that they learn from what happens to them. Ultimately, there is no way to develop experience other than to do what we’re doing. The All Blacks have an average of 50 or 60 caps per player. We’re not quite up to that level.”

Another thought occurs: having selected the most physically intimidating back division available to them, why was it that England spent parts of the contest attempting to beat the All Blacks at their own quicksilver, space-aware game? Cruden, Savea and all those Smiths must have thought they were in seventh heaven. Certainly, they would not have tried anything remotely as daft had the boot been on the other foot.

Even now, it is possible to see how Lancaster’s side can prevail over the New Zealanders. It is, however, extremely difficult to work out how they can do it by playing an Anglo-Saxon version of all-singing, all-dancing rugby. Dominance up front, an accurate kicking game and a much higher ratio of sound man-management decisions is patently the way forward. It may not be fun, but it will be a whole lot simpler than rediscovering the lost art of alchemy and turning base metal into gold.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
A speech made by the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister urging women not to laugh in public in order to preserve morality has sparked a backlash on social media from women posting defiant selfies of themselves laughing at his remarks.
GALLERYWhy are Turkish women having a chuckle at the government's expense?
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star