No one expected it, but England managed to do what no other has done in 2012 – defeat an All Blacks side rated as the greatest of all time.
No one expected it, but England managed to do what no other side has done in 2012 – defeat an All Blacks side rated as the greatest of all time.
Twickenham will not forget Saturday's stunning victory for a while, nor will any other nation forget it either.
When you go without beating the All Blacks for nine years, you're entitled to bask in the glory of that result knowing that it could be another nine years before it comes around again. Except that is exactly what England want to avoid.
Debating the norovirus factor is important because regardless of what Richie McCaw stated before the match, if nearly all of your squad have spent the week with a vomiting bug then of course you are going to be affected. At the same time, whilst the All Blacks pride is far too great to admit any form of fatigue, this was their 14th Test at the end of a long year.
Saturday's XV was the best they had to offer. Even if they were not fatigued and no longer sick, they would have felt so after watching Manu Tuilagi stroll towards the line.
Rarely have New Zealand looked so harried, wayward and exposed, but England made them appear that way. Regardless of the hysteria last weekend calling for the return of 39-year-old locks and the wisdom of Sir Clive, England had shown promise in defeat earlier in November and here it was fulfilled.
The whole forward effort was outstanding, but Tom Wood and Joe Launchbury in particular excelled. This was only Launchbury's second start in Tests, his fourth cap overall, yet the 21-year-old was everywhere and finished as England's top tackler on 14. It was a performance that firmly wrapped a Lions bolter tag around his neck and left you questioning just how good he can become.
Wood on the other hand spent the months during his long injury lay-off in 2012 dreaming about moments such as Saturday. The initial front-runner to be Stuart Lancaster's first captain, England value his work-rate and physicality very highly, and rightly so.
Two other 21-year-olds also left their mark on Twickenham. Owen Farrell had quite the week, with the starting shirt and IRB Player of the Year Nominee tag pinned to his back, but in the first half, apart from one wayward kick to touch, he was deadly. Four penalties and a drop-goal before the All Blacks' resurgence gave England a cushion. On a day when many expected him to buckle under the pressure, Farrell held firm.
If Tuilagi on the other hand felt the pressure of facing Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, he didn't show it. His offload for Brad Barritt's crucial score had a hint of fortune, but the power and skill in breaking through tackles from McCaw, Dan Carter and Aaron Smith was all his own work. Breaks such as those are why people hold Tuilagi in such high regard. It was only right that he snapped up Kieran Read's loose pass for the interception.
England though must now build. Saturday's game will either be viewed in the future as a freak result in the legacy of the All Blacks or the foundation of English success.
Andy Farrell spoke about England converting the pressure from recent weeks into a performance, but that pressure will only increase having thumped the world champions and number one side. Tom Croft, Ben Foden, Dylan Hartley, Toby Flood and Courtney Lawes and many more are all hungry to return.
The Six Nations is now brilliantly poised. France will not let a 4th placed finish happen again. Champions Wales are bruised and ready to produce a backlash. Ireland are on a high after their masterclass against Argentina.
And now, England have the All Blacks' scalp in their back pocket for everyone to marvel at. How valuable it will prove to be will depend on success in the Six Nations. Roll on February.
by Ben Coles