England 38 New Zealand 21: Lessons as Red Rose thrash world champions
England 38 New Zealand 21: James Thompson takes a look at the key talking points as the Red Rose thrash the All Blacks
When Owen Farrell was shortlisted for the IRB Player of the Year award earlier in the week, many were surprised at his inclusion. While the fly-half played wonderfully during the Six Nations, he had failed to reach those dizzy heights this season, and to some his nomination ahead of the likes of Argentina’s Juan Fernandez Lobbe wasn’t justified. If they carried those thoughts into this game, then they were emphatically silenced by Farrell’s performance against New Zealand. The Saracens man played brilliantly against arguably the greatest fly-half ever – Dan Carter. Some were pushing for the mercurial attacking talent of Gloucester’s Freddie Burns to be drafted in, and while Farell’s game isn’t about those off-the-cuff moments, he delivered a fantastic performance. His kicking was exemplary – he held his nerve wonderfully and guided England into a 15-0 half-time lead. He provided a solid platform for his backline, with good distribution and was part of an England defence that managed to shut out a potent All Blacks side for large parts of the game.
Yet again the Man(u)
At the risk of sounding repetitive, Manu Tuilagi yet again showcased why he is such an important part of this England side. His physicality and love for a run has its disadvantages, but his raw pace and power make him a constant threat. Tuilagi picked apart the best centre partnership in world rugby – Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith – with a series of devastating runs and capped his performance with a breakaway interception try. While his finesse has been called into question and his reading of the game is still evolving, he has showed startling improvement in an England shirt and will surely be a Lion next year. His tackling and willingness to hit a breakdown hard helped inspire England, and the defensive display by the entire team was nothing short of extraordinary. The fact that his try and assists helped England beat New Zealand by their biggest-ever margin just rounded off a world-class display.
England’s ferocious forwards
While Chris Robshaw has attracted criticism in the past few weeks from his decision-making, it has detracted from his fantastic performances. He’s not a natural No7 but has more than matched the best teams in the world and led from the front in turning out inspiring displays. He was brilliant against Richie McCaw and the rest of the All Black pack, and the skipper was backed up by the likes of Tom Wood and Joe Launchbury. Wood delivered a man-of-the-match performance and looks like a seasoned international. Launchbury’s rise has been meteoric, impressively building on his cameo against Australia to cement his place in England’s second row. His dynamism in the loose and confidence on the ball allows Stuart Lancaster’s men to almost play with four back rows, and if Courtney Lawes returns from injury to partner him, England could have a partnership to rival that of Victor Matfield-Mouritz Botha in terms of longevity and effectiveness. Tom Youngs had a slightly rocky game against South Africa but responded the right way today with strong line-outs and a battling display in the loose. England looked up for it against New Zealand, and despite their youth, if they take this level of commitment and passion into every game, then they will be able to challenge for honours in the future.
Credit must go to Lancaster
The Yorkshire man was given the full-time head-coach position following a successful audition through the Six Nations, and while he has had some criticism this autumn he will feel a great sense of pride after Saturday’s win. England were always expected to beat Fiji but the manner of the defeats against Australia and South Africa would have frustrated him greatly. He set his team up to be competitive but he can not influence decisions on the pitch and England’s lack of conviction can not be blamed on him. Lancaster has shown he is not afraid to changes things if necessary but still sticking by key men who have come under scrutiny. He kept faith in Farrell, backing him to do well when the majority of fans were crying out for Burns. Similarly he kept faith in the centre partnership of Brad Barritt and Tuilagi, and he was rewarded with their best combined display against the world champions. Barritt is a workhorse, selected for his defensive ability but the way he ghosted past Smith and the neat interchange with Tuilagi before he crossed for a try, fully vindicated Lancaster’s loyalty. The way he has brought in youngsters such as Launchbury, Youngs and Farrell since the World Cup fiasco last year has been key for England and he will be looking to use this victory as a springboard for the Six Nations.
New Zealand lose unbeaten streak
As brilliant as England were, the All Blacks were certainly below par. They never got going, and despite a brief few minutes when they scored two quick tries to bring themselves back into the game, they will be furious at their performance. When Dan Carter missed two kickable penalties, England fans dared to dream after New Zealand failed to register a single point in the first half! A virus had swept through the All Black squad during the week but that was no excuse for the manner of their performance. Only their wingers, Corey Jane and Julian Savea came out of the game with any credit as they constantly hunted for the ball, made impressive yardage and punished England the few times they missed tackles. The Red Rose are not renowned for their line breaking runs, but Carter’s men seemed too happy to accommodate them with lax defending and misplaced passes. Captain McCaw is now on a six-month sabbatical from the game and will be stewing that entire time and itching to put this right on his return.