This was another wonderful old-school test match between England and the All Blacks. Played in dreadful conditions at Twickenham, New Zealand took the match… just, by fighting back after the England rugby team were ahead 15-0 at one stage, to narrowly win 16-15.
The World Champions were given an almighty scare by a resurgent England rugby team who stepped up in every facet of their game. All the talk will be on the was it…wasn’t it a try [that was the disallowed try to England’s Sam Underhill]. If for a decision in the hosts favour just four minutes from the end of the match, it would have almost certainly given England rugby a famous win.
Ultimately, England got their TMO decision last week and not this Saturday, so on that basis, the common fan base must carry on. Live and learn, as the team performed at a higher standard, and widely it appears that they have their Mojo back.
Fact: poor lineouts cost England Rugby dearly
It would be harsh to criticize England too much, after an 80-minute performance which would have given even the most critical fan much cause for optimism toward the future. However, England will rue their poor lineout execution in the last quarter by the normally reliable Jamie George when pushing the All Blacks further and further back into their half as time was ticking away.
On such fine margins, are matches won and lost, and New Zealand showed why they are the best team in the world. After Scott Barrett was subbed on, they found a way to upset the England rugby hookers rhythm and constantly placed him and jumper Maro Itoje under the pump.
England’s backrow answer the call
The talk before this contest was whether England’s energetic but, lightweight backrow, could translate their tireless defensive work from last week into providing a more attacking threat this week.
For the first forty minutes, they were magnificent with Sam Underhill and Mark Wilson, in particular, making constant inroads into New Zealand’s overworked defence. Brad Shields also vastly improved against his old mates.
Underhill was absolutely immense on Saturday and his spectacular inside out on Beauden Barrett – which was the best try that never was – will live long in the memory. Underhill is better known for his thunderous hits; which he showed by thumping Damian McKenzie into touch early in the first half but, it was his incisive surges that really caught the eye against New Zealand
They answered the call, with Courtney Lawes adding his strapping bulk to the cause. This backrow combination has increased their worth, even in defeat.
Dominant first half gives England so much hope
It was 2012 all over again for England in the first half, as they played at an intensity level, and with line speed that has not been seen in a very long time. England’s pack; led by a resurgent Dylan Hartley and a rapidly improving Kyle Sinckler, smashed into the All Blacks making easy yards and rarely allowing the New Zealand pack any consistent-possession or territory.
From an English perspective, fans wanted to see more adventure with the ball in hand, and with Ben Youngs calling the shots beautifully in a dominant first quarter, two quickfire tries to Chris Ashton and Dylan Hartley were just rewarded for England.
Scarcely have England rugby fans seen an All Black team look so knocked out of their stride and appear clueless since…. well 2012. The visitors kicked away possession when it should have been retained, and up until Ryan Crotty appeared, were looking tame in comparison.
All Blacks set up win in final 10 minutes of the first half
The All Blacks are the best for a reason, and they were always going to come back into the game. Their fightback started with an excellent 10 minutes before halftime, when they elected to run a kickable penalty when 15-0 down. The scrum placed them in good territory, and after several phases, that resulted in the sprightly Damian McKenzie scoring near to the posts.
Then, from the kickoff, Owen Farrell uncharacteristically overshot the sideline, to give New Zealand another sniff. Sensing the momentum shift, the All Black pack stormed into English territory where it appeared they might quash the points advantage totally. A penalty before halftime saw the team end 40 minutes at 15-10.
Beauden Barrett early in the opening minutes of the second half, was in the pocket to knock over a vital drop goal. His very first, and in the blink of an eye, New Zealand scored 13 points and were 15-13 down, and with renewed hope.
It did not go all the visitor’s way. Aaron Smith blew a clear chance to offload for Ardie Savea to score, and Damian McKenzie was cut-short on several promising attacks. Beauden Barrett had a tough day at the office too, getting manhandled on a number of occasions including by his old mucker Brad Shields yet, still provided moments of brilliance to keep England’s defence guessing.
Ardie Savea and Sam Whitelock deserve special mentions for keeping a misfiring All Black pack in the hunt, with two big turnovers and providing a muscular presence at the breakdown when England threatened to run riot in the first half. Ben Smith was a threat, although the real threat of Rieko Ioane was well contained by Ashton and Elliot Daly.
All Blacks show their class by winning ugly
In terrible conditions, New Zealand were always going to struggle to unleash their devastating runners. They instead had to rely on grit and desperate defence, to keep England out.
Like in Pretoria back in September, New Zealand found a way to win when they were second best for most of the match. It was not pretty on Saturday – far from it, with many faulted drives into England rugby territory, due to poor concentration. But, they will be mightily relieved to get over the line.
They will be concerned that superstars like Sonny Bill Williams, Aaron Smith and Kieran Read had quiet games by their own lofty standards. Read quilty of dropping ball when his side appeared to have a window of opportunity to seal the result, after 60 minutes.
Such is the talent they have in reserve, that they still managed to turn around a 15-0 deficit. With Ireland eagerly awaiting them in Dublin next week, New Zealand will have to rest up well and get ready for another brutal examination against the Northern Hemisphere’s best team.
England will take many Positives into the Japanese test
There are many positives for Eddie Jones and England Rugby to take out of this game despite being an inch or two away from a famous win. They more than matched their illustrious opponents; especially up front, where the England pack were magnificent.
The likes of Kyle Sinckler and Mark Wilson have come of age in the last two weeks, and as for Sam Underhill, many observers always knew he had an engine on him. But on Saturday, he showed the attacking side to his game. Importantly, England raised their level considerably to play at an intensity and pace which can trouble the best teams in the world.
England’s backs did their best in appalling conditions and fans did not get to see the best of Chris Ashton or Elliot Daly; the latter having another difficult afternoon in the air. One hopes that Eddie Jones persists with Daly at fullback for next week as the Wasp’s man will have more yards to work in and, to show off his undoubted attacking skills against Japan on November 17.
Key Tactic: Rest players ahead of Wallabies fixture
Eddie Jones is not normally a man to change things up but surely it would be worth giving Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell and Jonny May a rest with the Wallabies in mind [on November 24].
It would be great to see the Bath duo, Zak Mercer and Joe Cokanasiga given a runout against Japan, as England need to work out who among their fringe players can break into the potential 2019 Rugby World Cup squad.
Eddie must get Joe Cokanasiga in his side straight away, says @bathrugby legend Jeremy Guscott
— TheRugbyPaper (@TheRugbyPaper) September 28, 2018
England Rugby would be expected to put a hefty scoreline on the Japanese [with respect] but they cannot be underestimated, as South Africa know all too well. There is always the danger of coming down from a good performance the week before, so Jones has a balancing act of keeping most of his squad of 23 intact while giving others an opportunity to impress.
In conclusion, well done to New Zealand and to an England Rugby side who have shown they have the combined skills to perform on the International stage. This was a cracking test match which could have gone either way. England should not complain about the TMO decision, as against the Springboks last week they got the ‘rub of the green’.
Crucially, England and Eddie Jones have got their mojo back and can now look forward to the next two weeks, as well as the 2019 Six Nations and Rugby World Cup with renewed hope.
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