If Daniel Carter spends his "sabbatical" in France – Toulon have offered him half-a-million quid for half a year's work – he might find himself reacquainted with déjà vu.
In the First Test against England in Auckland last week, New Zealand's outstanding stand-off scored 22 points. It included a try, he didn't miss a kick at goal and before the end he was contemplating life from the comfort of the bench.
For the Second Test in Christchurch yesterday, Carter again scored 22 points, which contained the obligatory try and, of course, he didn't miss a goal-kick. Then he went off for a breather. Carter 44 points, England 32. The All Blacks, not to mention the rest of theworld, have never seen such a gifted playmaker.
Steve Borthwick's last act as England captain was to put in a forlorn tackle on Jimmy Cowan as the replacement scrum-half touched down for try number five in the tourists' 44-12 defeat.
"We have to give credit to the All Blacks," Borthwick said. "Whenever they saw a try- scoring opportunity they took it. We had some chances, we didn't take them and that cost us. It could have been a lot closer. We know our lack of precision let us down but it was an outstanding effort. In our last two games we've been found wanting against very strong opposition."
Borthwick, handed the captaincy in place of Phil Vickery, added that England's preparation had "gone well", despite the considerable distraction of the subplot surrounding the "Auckland Four". Incredibly, some Rugby Football Union insiders believe that the allegations of rape and/or sexual assault at the team's hotel following the First Test (a 37-20 defeat and a late-night visit to the Pony Club) were "designed to destabilise" England.
Four members of the squad, who deny all allegations, declined to be interviewed by the Auckland police on the grounds that no formal complaint had been made.
"If there had been any substance in the case it should have been dealt with," a Twickenham official said. "The whole episode has been unsatisfactory, but you haveto remember that New Zealand are still bitter with us over their exit from the World Cup."
For their shocking defeat by France in the quarter-finals last autumn, New Zealanders blame the referee Wayne Barnes,an Englishman.
It still hurts, and there were fresh feelings of resentment a few days ago when the England cricket team were accused of gamesmanship in denying New Zealand victory in a rain-affected one-day international. The upshot was "no result".
The All Blacks, who were eminently capable of destabilising England without any outside assistance, achieved an emphatic 2-0 result in this series which has helped ease the pain (it will never be obliterated) of their World Cup demise.
Borthwick was right. New Zealand's finishing was deadly, England's careless. Once again the Red Rose pack, in which James Haskell was relentless, made life difficult for the All Blacks and for several periods denied them any possession. A fat lot of good it did them.
When Carter and Co got going they were virtually unstoppable. England had just scored their first try, the impressive Danny Care taking a tap penalty to evade the All Black pack from close range. Care's confidence might have been catching, but within a minute or so England found themselves 30-7 down, Ma'a Nonu taking an inside pass from Carter to smithereen the defence. Anything you can do we can do better... and quicker.
Care also had a hand in Tom Varndell's try, but before that Mike Tindall was shown a yellow card for killing the ball, and for the second Test in succession received a sin-binning.
Almost the whole of this wretched little tour – a payback for New Zealand's autumnal visits to Twickenham – belongs, one way or another, in the sin- bin. No sooner had Tindall walked off than from the scrum Sione Lauaki went solo and smashed through a disorganised England defence.
Earlier Varndell, one of five original changes in the England back-line, should have scored but didn't when he failed to make the corner – à la David Strettle in the First Test – and it was even worse for the hugely talented but hopelessly unfortunate Mathew Tait. Drafted in at full-back, he created, Carter-like, one of England's few genuine moments of sheer footballing skill and pace but inexplicably knocked on in the act of touching down.
Tait deserved better but in fact things only got worse. Receiving a hospital pass, he found himself not only with the ball but the forehead of Richard Kahui, a very impressive 23-year-old debutant who had the decency to stand over the stricken and bloodied Tait and check on his wellbeing. Tait was in a right old state and was carted off to the local infirmary. That's why they call them hospital passes.Reuse content