Saturday, June 21, 2014

All Blacks dish up a dose of rugby reality in Hamilton

If you're going to make a statement at your last chance in a three-Test series you have already lost, you don't start by kicking the match opener out on the full - not against the All Blacks anyway.

Out to 29-6 at half-time, the All Blacks were only able to add a post-fulltime try in the second half, and thereby hangs the story of England's inaccuracies in their 36-13 loss at Hamilton's Westpac Stadium.

England first five-eighths Freddie Burns' starting blue became a talisman for his side who spent 40 minutes playing catch-up without getting sufficient quality ball to pressure the All Blacks, let alone give themselves confidence.

By comparison, the All Blacks played at their best in the series, for all of the first half, and England's drawing board looks set for more of a workout than the players were able to produce at Waikato Stadium.

Steve Hansen's sides, in 31 Tests have now scored 1004 points and 487 against, a ratio of 2:1 for only one loss. And in scoring three tries wing Julian Savea joined Jonah Lomu having scored eight tries against England.

Prop Tony Woodcock, who spent time in the sin-bin on the night, achieved his 12th winning appearance against England, the most by any player from any country, surpassing JPR Williams of Wales' record.

And the win was the 17th by New Zealand, equalling the world records set by Fred Allen's team of 1965-69 and Nick Mallett's Springbok team of the late 1990s. Richie McCaw has now captained New Zealand to a 17-win streak, a 16-win streak and two 15-win streaks.

Two chances, two tries, in the first eight minutes to the All Blacks spelled the difference in execution, intent, class, call it what you will. Just what went wrong in the second half will have the New Zealand brains trust occupied ahead of The Rugby Championship.

Wet weather, which must have given England some hope of pulling the All Blacks back to them, accounted for nothing in the home side's attitude from the outset.

Both the first two tries came from lineouts and each produced sparkling tries on the opposite side of the field for wing Julian Savea to make it 22 tries in 22 Tests and he should have had a 23rd in the 13th minute from yet another right-field lineout.

But after the double-round move provided more space for Nonu and Cruden to work their magic a forward pass was all that denied Savea the try. With halfback Aaron Smith adding two more by the 32nd minute, the game was, for all intents and purposes over.

Of concern for the All Blacks' management team will be the way their side went to sleep in the second half, and the scrum problems that ensued around the middle stages of the half when penalties were a too common occurrence for comfort.

England did play more determinedly in the second half, but they had to because the consequence was a rout of the highest order. Wing Marland Yarde scored the side's only try, and went close on two other occasions to look the most effective of the visitors.

On the list for English consideration will be the assured fact that Mike Brown may have arrived in New Zealand as a claimant for the world's best fullback but he's got at least two in front of him now with Ben Smith and Israel Dagg heading the list.

The need for faster and more intuitive thinking was also demonstrated at stages when, in longer phases, England looked to run out of direction and understanding of what they were trying to do. The pointless kicking to the New Zealand rearguard is another ploy England will need to feed into their tactical computer. It will probably tell them some following up from their players would help.

But with all members of the squad getting a run, the All Blacks have introduced new players in a successful environment to set themselves up for the Championship defence.

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