Chris Rattue: Twickenham fixture was a snore draw

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The Independent Online

England were so bad they almost made the All Blacks look good, but Martin Johnson's clunky robots failed in that as well. The All Blacks took the spoils on the scoreboard on Saturday, but as a spectacle this rugby international was a snore draw.

Such is the state of rugby that neither side got close to rescuing the game from the doldrums, where it sits like a giant ocean liner with little fuel and not a rescue craft in sight.

Give the All Blacks their due, because victory is paramount in this arena.

England fired up for physical if clueless action, and as Scotland showed a few kilometres north against Australia, the All Blacks' dominance over most northern rivals is not something that should be taken for granted.

But this All Black team is stuck in third gear and rugby, the game, is travelling about the same at best. Viewing it has become as much fun as watching paint dry, and you could do both at New Zealand stadiums this year.

If we could squeeze one more apology out of Paddy O'Brien, then the IRB refereeing boss might blow the whistle on the whole sport, and say sorry for the way rugby has crashed from the heady post-professionalism days when glorious attack almost went too far at some levels.

Productive sidesteps, wizard passes, weaving runs, flowing team moves, blood-curdling counterattacks - where have they all gone, even as brief respite. Where, pray tell, has Ma'a Nonu gone? Isn't he our blockbusting, crowd-pleasing, midfield ball runner?

The IRB could actually celebrate this grand spam tour because if the world's citizens are still cramming into giant stadiums to watch this stuff, just imagine the rugby explosion if it ever recovers as a spectacle.

The victories keep rolling in for the touring All Blacks but the performances remain average in a nondescript season. The year started with defeat against a B-grade French team at home and has mainly limped along since.

France and the Barbarians remain and offer hope for the romantics, but playing England at Twickenham gave off no such magic unless you drool over stadium architecture, the sight of bone crunching on bone, and like to conjure up imaginative images of the game's upper crust crying in their Bentleys.

What happened in London yesterday morning would have been a glorious All Black triumph 30 or 40 years ago, but the world has moved on, as it had to.

Once again, the All Blacks managed just one try and once again it was one better than their opponents.

The best that can be said about the All Blacks is that they are protecting a proud record, but forget about the lie which says our troops are prevented from unleashing running rugby because rules and horrid referees don't allow it.

There were ample opportunities for these men in black to cut a stilted English team apart but their co-ordination and support skills were way off the mark.

One superbly worked move was the sum try total for the day, the result of a rare plundering through the middle of an English pack made up of a teletubby frontrow aided by gasping veterans Simon Shaw and a slimmed-down Steve Thompson.

One man made held sway for New Zealand and it could go without saying who he was. Richie McCaw was magnificent again.

Not so Dan Carter, who had what for him were a couple of off moments and an ordinary day with the ball in hand or falling out of it. It has to be said that on this evidence, Carter is not responding all that well to the influence of the All Blacks' new attack coach - Steve Hansen. But Carter was remarkably prominent in defence and still good enough to make a difference.

Carter is a protected species in the Sky commentary box, though, where, after committing the old rugby crime of hoofing a penalty line kick over the dead ball line, we heard that he should get a highly commended for his ambition. Try telling us that when Matt Giteau stuffs up.

England tried hard ... which is the very least you should expect from former world champions, the richest rugby country, and a team that now supplements its own vast resources by stealing screaming Kiwis from out of their state houses in the dead of night and forcing them into the white jersey in retaliation for what we've been doing to Pacific Islanders for decades.

It says much about All Black and rugby problems when Carter cannot pick out a few plumb attacking moments, that Conrad Smith's rugby cleverness is now concentrated on how he defends, and Sitiveni Sivivatu is hailed by commentators for his improved ability to kick the ball against England, the team we love to kick around for kicking the ball all the time.

The English forwards, and notably Shaw, were combative around rucks, their No 8 James Haskell vigorous, and others like replacement Tom Croft scavenged hard but couldn't match the All Blacks' breakdown work. England even took two tightheads although Henry's men had the advantage at scrums.

As for the England backline, though, it is worse than ever.

Jonny Wilkinson is so obsessed with his game, and such a hero to his nation, that he could be the first man to join his national squad by using a free bus pass.

How England would benefit from having Mike Delany, or even Jimmy Gopperth; not that they would actually realise it.

There are Chelsea pensioners who can change a tyre quicker than England shovel the ball around their backs and they only look remotely world class when the other team has possession.

As for Johnson, his elevation to the England job on reputation alone was comical, and even more so when he gave himself the first tour to New Zealand off.

Johnson, and Wilkinson for that matter, are unlikely to be the answer for England.

Their game is so stagnant that after they crash at the next World Cup England may be best advised to get a fresh perspective, and bring in a foreign coach to inspire or extract a touch of flair.

As the All Blacks showed at Twickenham, rugby is in an olden-day rut, but flashes of class still often determine who wins and loses on the international stage.

Sourced from: The New Zealand Herald