New Zealand duly put paid to England in the second Test in Christchurch on Saturday, racking up five tries and 44 points, but incurring injuries to two key players in the process.
New Zealand duly put paid to England in the second Test in Christchurch on Saturday, racking up five tries and 44 points to England's 12, but incurring injuries to two key players in the process.
Ali Williams and Richie McCaw both hobbled out of the first half with ankle injuries, a huge worry to Graham Henry. But the flip side was the excellence in debut of both Richard Kahui and Adam Thomson, and Anthony Boric's cover of Williams was perfectly adequate.
England played like a tired and distressed team. They were rarely able to come out of their ten-man shell, and two glorious scoring chances were spurned in the first half. Olly Barkley missed a kick in front of the posts early in the second, and James Haskell gave away three points by throwing the ball away at a penalty just after.
But we know about England. This Test merely underlined the deficiencies and gameplay fatigue of the first. The tactics were restrictive in the extreme – Toby Flood pumped up four high balls in the first quarter of an hour alone – but on the rare occasions the ball went wide it was apparent why. There was not one clean England back-line break. Danny Care and James Haskell both made inroads, but there was none of the subtlety and sleight of hand that saw Ma'a Nonu go in for his try for example.
With the Tri-Nations coming up, we should now focus on New Zealand. 44-12 against England is a handy score, and there were lots of highs, but a few lows too.
The emergence of Thomson and Kahui means that two pieces of the new All Black jigsaw have been found and fit snugly in. Indeed, Thomson's contribution was such that McCaw was hardly missed. His positional work and reading of the game was superlative. Anthony Boric is a little raw still, but if he can assimilate from the tutelage of Williams and Thorn, he will be a regular by 2011.
The All Black scrum lived up to its midweek promise and made mincemeat of the English offering. The match in the loose was a little more even, with referee Jonathan Kaplan sparing no huff and puff from his whistle. There were seven penalties in the first ten minutes alone, five for breakdown offences. Neither team was prepared to dance to Kaplan's shrill tune entirely though, and the result was a whistle-punctuated game for long periods, and plenty of turnover ball for both sides.
Of the non-debutants in black shirts, Dan Carter once again directed with magnificence, Nonu ran hard and straight and intelligently, and Sitiveni Sivivatu worked hard to get himself some opportunities. Brad Thorn and Rodney So'oialo – who assumed the captaincy with the exit of McCaw – were tireless. The front row was merciless.
But it is not all gravy. Andrew Ellis failed to build on last week's display, and there were a few too many careless passes from the base of the scrum. There were also conspicuous lackadaisical moments under a couple of high balls and at a couple of restarts, lapses in concentration that may be fine against England, but will cost against South Africa and Australia.
In defence, in rare moments when England upped the tempo with tapped penalties or blind side snipes, the All Blacks struggled to cope with the pace of retreat. Twice tries were yielded, and twice further penalties of 10 metres. The defensive job was made easy by England's lack of any weapon more dangerous than the sledgehammer.
New Zealand took the lead in the first minute, kicking the ball off to the English, tackling the English, turning over the English ball, forcing an English infringement, and Carter kicking the ball through the English posts.
The first threatening move of the match came from the English as well, with James Haskell running to and down the short side to take a line-out tap-down. He popped inside to Care, but the scrum-half betrayed his inexperience by opting to chip instead of duck and weave.
Otherwise, Flood kept pumping up-and-unders with marginal effect, and from the fourth, New Zealand scored. Leon MacDonald countered down the left, there were two quick rucks, and then the ball went wide right to Carter, who broke the line and then switched deftly with Kahui, who powered home with unrestrained glee for his debut try.
Kahui went close to the corner again after 25 minutes after another counter attack, and Carter landed another penalty shortly after to make it 13-0.
Tom Varndell was tackled into touch by MacDonald in the corner after Carter had dithered under a high ball, but Carter made amends. He was held up after regathering his own chip, and from the resultant 5m scrum he cut a delicious angle to go under the posts and make it 20-0.
Twice England ought to have scored before the break; once Sione Lauaki turned English ball over in a key position, and Mathew Tait was deprived of the luck of the bounce from a clever chip. It remained 20-0 to half-time.
Little changed in the second half, bar the tackles becoming slightly looser. Olly Barkley missed a sitter of a penalty in front of the posts, and Carter made it 23-0 when Haskell threw the ball away and was penalised a further ten yards.
Care finally got England on the scoresheet, tapping and going all the way from a scrum penalty, but as if to prove their control the All Blacks simply swept upfield and scored two minutes later. Sivivatu took the ball off Ellis to make the incision, and the combination of the offload in the tackle and Nonu's running line was unstoppable.
Mike Tindall was sin-binned for a slowing-down of All Black ball straight out of the Dallaglio book of cynicism, and the All Blacks opted to scrum the penalty. Lauaki picked up the ball at number eight and scored, Carter making it 37-7 with the extras.
Once again some quick England tempo caught the All Blacks defence napping, and Varndell got his try, but New Zealand dominated thereafter. Thomson was denied a debut try by a contentious TMO decision, but Jimmy Cowan got his first Test try in the final minute with a quick dart.
Man of the match: James Haskell played well for England but let himself down with that moment of indiscipline, and Lee Mears was also strong. For the All Blacks, the front row was in fearsome form, Carter was his usual excellent self, and Nonu and Kahui formed a fine partnership. But with a performance of street wisdom far in excess of a meagre 80 minutes of experience, Adam Thomson's debut is marked with a MOTM accolade.
Moment of the match: Danny Care gave England a brief flicker of hope with his try, the flicker promptly extinguished by the try from Nonu, which both killed the game off and was the pick of the bunch.
Villain of the match: A collective award for all the players so intent on killing the ball at every breakdown. It really ruined the flow of the game, and despite the best efforts of Jonathan Kaplan.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Kahui, Carter, Nonu, Lauaki, Cowan
Cons: Carter 4, Donald