England 22 New Zealand 30: Four talking points
England 22 New Zealand 30: Four talking points as the Red Rose lose their final autumn international at Twickenham
After a sucker punch within two minutes of the start, Stuart Lancaster’s men were required to dig deep and withstand a New Zealand onslaught. But it was through their pack which the Red Rose found a way back into the final autumn international at Twickenham. Without Mako Vunipola and Alex Corbisiero, England took on and out-muscled the All Blacks in the maul as Billy Vunipola thrust the hosts forward. Captain Chris Robshaw threw caution to wind with his side trailing by 14 points as the England pack looked to replicate Joe Launchbury’s try against the Pumas last week. After a sustained spell of pressure, Vunipola had the England supporters on their feet after touching down following a drive from a Red Rose lineout. The number eight was adjudged to have fallen just short. It proved irrelevant moments later, as another England scrum led to the ball popping out and Launchbury capitalising to hand the hosts a lifeline. Coming under increasing pressure, New Zealand front three of Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Owen Franks buckled under pressure as Engand out-scrummaged their rivals, and Owen Farrell narrowed New Zealand’s half-time lead to four points. It was the outstanding performances from No10 through to No1 which inspired their turnaround in fortunes – despite missing out on victory.
Read rules the roost
With a litany of New Zealand stars on show, including skipper Richie McCaw and Dan Carter at Twickenham, it was All Blacks No8 Kieran Read who stole the headlines for the visitors, particularly in the first half. Twickenham rose to the challenge of the Haka as New Zealand’s traditional pre-match ceremony was drowned out by choruses of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. Riled, New Zealand made a blistering start and muted the England supporters within 180 seconds. Lee Dickson, Chris Ashton and Vunipola were sucked into a challenge on Read, but the 6ft 4ins forward showed delicate hands to deceive his opponents and tee up Julian Savea for the Test’s opening try. The 28-year-old was instrumental in New Zealand’s second try, too, as he helped start a move which exposed England’s narrowness, and Read finished off as he ran clear for his 15th try. It was almost too good to be true for Read at the home of English rugby, and he was sin-binned before half-time after the All Blacks committed one indiscretion too many.
Carter 100-cap celebration cut short
It was a fitting tribute to a decorated career (so far) that Carter was the first on the Twickenham pitch on Saturday afternoon. The New Zealand fly-half was making his 100th All Blacks appearance and was decked out in golden boots to mark the occasion. Carter has faced England on nine previous occasions, emerging triumphant in eight of those clashes. The Canterbury No10, whose father flew over from New Zealand for the clash, added a further seven points to his tally of 1,435 prior to the match but Carter’s afternoon was cut short through injury. However, such is the quality of depth in the New Zealand ranks, Aaron Cruden replaced the All Blacks legend and slotted a penalty from 42 metres out between the posts to leave the visitors 10 points clear. Cruden kept the scoreboard ticking over with a new of crucial penalties which helped take the pressure of his tiring forwards in the second half and seal victory.
England show character
New Zealand’s second-minute try, followed by Read’s effort, left some suggesting that England were playing for pride (or damage limitation) after 16 minutes. But Lancaster is a resilient individual and that’s reflected in his side, who showed the character to respond. Trailing by 17 points, Robshaw made a series of courageous decisions – and let’s not forget the skipper’s decision-making came under fierce scrutiny last autumn – as he allowed England’s pack to dominate the Kiwis. Tries from Launchbury and a series of penalty awards allowed the hosts to reduce the deficit to four points before half-time. Lancaster’s men were guilty of taking their foot off the accelerator in the second half, but England kept their feet on New Zealand necks following the interval as Farrell closed the gap to a sole point. Such was the intensity of England’s second-half performance that even Kiwi skipper McCaw was being drawn into errors, allowing the Red Rose fly-half to put the hosts two points clear. But New Zealand showed their champion spirit as McCaw demanded that his team-mates dig deep for the final quarter of the match. The visitors did, and Ma’a Nonu’s superb offload allowed Savea to score his second try of the afternoon. It helped New Zealand get a grip on proceeding as Cruden’s penalties took the match away from England. Still, there were more positives for Lancaster as the Red Rose pushed the All Blacks all the way.