Do not underestimate an England side ever. Commentator Scotty Stevenson
A win but a close one
By Roger Childs
England is a strong rugby nation and has beaten the All Blacks seven times. Their most decisive win was in 1936 at Twickenham when their fleet footed winger Prince Obolensky scored two tries in the13-0 victory. Then in December 2012, there was the 38-21 win against a virus ravaged All Black team, when each side scored three tries.
So the New Zealand team would have been under no illusions about what to expect on Saturday. The first test of the season is always challenging and as coach Steve Hansen put it When you come off limited preparation you are going to be rusty. He was right, as in an error -ridden game, the All Blacks just nailed the 20-15 victory with a late try.
A very competitive England side
The teams went into the sheds at half time with the score at 12-12. England had the better of the first half on the basis of
- taking the game to the All Blacks and being superior in the set pieces
- often being quicker to the loose ball
- not missing a lineout throw
- running strongly in the backs, led by impressive centre Manu Tuilagi.
The visitors might have scored a first half try if Ma’a Nonu had not held James Haskell back by the jersey as the flanker moved forward to support a storming run by captain Chris Robshaw. The All Black second five should have been sin-binned.
Both sides had chances in the first half, however the English looked more composed, played the game at their pace and often put the All Blacks under pressure.
For the most part, with Geoff Parling disrupting the lineout and Haskell and Morgan throwing their weight around, the world champions looked rusty and ill at ease. Guardian Rugby Reporter Robert Kitson
The All Blacks made a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes: dropping passes, missing takes in the air and aimlessly kicking the ball away. The half time score flattered the home side.
Superiority in the second half
After half time it was a different All Black side. In the early minutes there was a series of attacks and two judicious kicks by half back Aaron Smith could have led to tries.
- In the first instance, an England player was isolated near his own goal line, but Coles stupidly took out a defender off the ball and the resulting penalty relieved the pressure for the visitors.
- Then on the left flank, minutes later, Kaino knocked the ball on with the try line beckoning.
As in the first half, Freddie Burns and Aaron Cruden traded penalties and with 15 minutes to go and 15-15 on the scoreboard many would have regarded a draw as a fair result.
However as they often do, to the relief of the fans, the All Blacks got on top in the last quarter. A stampeding 50 metre run by Retallick set the tone and led to Yarde being yellow carded for a professional foul. Cruden took the home side’s score to 15 and then, given another penalty 40 metres out with five minutes to go, opted to take a quick tap.
The attack down field led to a series of rucks deep inside the English 22 and Crockett was just short in a lunge for the tryline. A couple of rucks later the ball went blind side and Conrad Smith, showing superb anticipation, appeared outside Ben Smith to score the only try of the match.
All Blacks good and bad
It was definitely a mixed bag. Dagg, Nonu, Messam and McCaw had sub-standard games and were all guilty of unforced errors. The players coming off the bench also made mistakes.
- Fekitoa missed an early tackle
- Perenara was penalised for a crooked scrum feed
- Barrett dropped an easy pass.
However Crockett and Vito did make a positive impact in the pack and both played a crucial role in the final successful attack.
One of the best of the All Blacks was Aaron Smith, who was always a handful for the opposition and generally passed and kicked well. Conrad Smith was his usual hard working self at centre and showed inspired anticipation to be in the right place to score the winning try. Retallick toiled in the tight, did well in the lineout and made an outstanding second half break.
What to expect next week
Both teams will have learned a lot from this first test. English captain Chris Robshaw said after the match We will be better in the second test.
Coach Stuart Lancaster will have a stronger squad to select from, as five front line players, fresh from a club final over the weekend, arrive in the country this week. Lawes, Hartley, Wood, Farrell and Burrell will be after test places, however it’s a dilemma for the coach deciding who drops out of the well performed English team.
The All Blacks know they can play a lot better, and as Steve Hansen remarked We won’t be pushing the panic button. Some possible changes to the starting line-up on Saturday could be
- Ben Smith at fullback
- Vito replacing Messsam on the flank
- Savea back on the wing if he’s available.
The second test should see the All Blacks playing with a lot more passion, consistency and hopefully, success.