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
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
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

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015