The debate around the Haka surfaces ahead of most England v New Zealand matches, but the All Blacks didn’t capitalise on any supposed psychological advantage at Twickenham. England made a fifth-minute breakthrough, perhaps inspired by partisan roars of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, which drowned out, for the most part, the Haka. Facing traffic and with nowhere to go, Jonny May took the ball on the outside and turned on the after-burners to streak past New Zealand full-back Israel Dagg down the narrowest of corridors and into the corner. A great start almost became the perfect start as May gathered a loose ball with England holding the numerical advantage, only for Dagg to hit back and get the better of the Red Rose No11 before he could off-load to Owen Farrell. England would later rue the wasted opportunity as Chris Robshaw and Courtney Lawes missed to two tackles in the lead up Aaron Cruden’s try. It halted their momentum, denying the Red Rose from moving out of sight.
Facing the world champions, it is vital that you secure maximum scoreboard pressure, gradually extending your advantage as you maintain control. But after a blistering start, England lost their way towards the end of the first half. The home side started to get careless and referee Nigel Owens didn’t hesitate to penalise Stuart Lancaster’s men. Dylan Hartley thought he had got away with a cynical shoulder barge off the ball, but Owens’ assistant spotted the incident, cue a straightforward three points for Cruden. England No10 Owen Farrell missed a decent drop goal chance before the fly-half conceded a penalty to allow his opposite number to square the match up at 11-11. Surprisingly, though, Richie McCaw was punished for coming over the top in a ruck, meaning England finished the first half 14-11 ahead. Had Lancaster’s side made the most of their chances and been more disciplined, it could have been 14-5.
Last year, England’s promising autumn international series ended with a 30-22 defeat by the All Blacks. A week later, McCaw’s side went to Dublin and ensured they finished 2013 with a 100 per cent record in dramatic circumstances. This time around, New Zealand were first on the agenda. Time for England to make a statement ahead of the visits of Australia, South Africa and Samoa. For the first 10 minutes, next year’s World Cup hosts looked to be doing just that, storming into a 5-0 lead, which really could have been more. But the All Blacks are defending champions and underlined why. The tourists kept in touch with England throughout the first half, biding their time, before striking a blow early after the break. Over ambition from debutant and replacement George Kruis put Farrell in bother, allowing New Zealand captain McCaw to capitalise and edge his side 16-14 ahead. Even Dane Coles being sent to the sin bin couldn’t halt the All Blacks, who added a further eight points before conceding a late penalty try. The All Blacks were in action just two weeks ago in United States, while England were still shaking off ring rust from the summer, at least at international level. Sir Clive Woodward’s side were 31-28 winners against New Zealand in their final rehearsal before their eventual 2003 World Cup triumph, and Lancaster will be disappointing his crop didn’t emulate England’s best-ever and win on Saturday. It will be New Zealand, not the hosts, who are the team to beat come next autumn.
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