The reaction of Eddie Jones and the England Rugby Union team last weekend at the final whistle spoke volumes. Sides would typically be elated with managing to be within one point of the reigning RWC holders but this was an opportunity absolutely lost by England last week.
England created a potential match winning early in this test match (tries from Ashton and Hartley within the first twenty-four minutes) but a combination of indiscipline and utter resilience from New Zealand to not panic, work through the phases and their game plan despite being far from efficient won the day.
There was that late England try chalked off but question marks on game management prior to this play (kicking the penalty to get points on the board) raised their head as well for England. It was well and good to be cavalier and exciting on the eye but professional rugby union is all about winning and despite England’s huge effort, they came up short.
New Zealand on the other hand will be relieved to get out of Twickenham with a victory; the opening quarter in particular was most uncomfortable. The side were sluggish and struggled to find any tempo in their play. Williams withdrawal was further interruption but credit to Crotty who stormed into this contest with forty meters from eight carries. Goodhue suddenly looked far more comfortable upon Crotty’s introduction as well as Smith and McKenzie.
The win was ugly at times but the patience and composure of New Zealand to rescue the test match particularly in that last five minutes of the opening period was the decisive point of the game. 15-0 to the good on thirty-eight minutes, things looked well in hand but then a defensive lapse allowed Barrett the time and space to unleash McKenzie for the opening try and then a quick penalty to reduce the gap by five points. 15-10 suddenly and England were under the cosh for the entire second half. New Zealand scented blood and held on for a hard fought win.
New Zealand Threats
The focal point of this side is from the fly-half position. Beauden Barrett’s game has elevated to new levels this year; he can beat in so many ways. His passing distribution to his three quarters is so crisp and indecisive that the three quarter unit can create seamless gain line breaks.
His kicking game as well from hand is another added dimension; will punish teams if their defensive is up too fast with some deft grubber kicks. If teams are defensively narrow, the diagonal aerial kick to the corners usually yields try scoring success for New Zealand and with the likes of Ben Smith, Rieko Ioane and Damien McKenzie lurking with intent; the different looks will have defensive coaches of opposition with many sleepless nights.
The backbone of the side is in the pack. The impressive Kieran Read at eight sets the tone for others to follow. His athleticism with ball in hand, tackle count and ability at the breakdown when given the opportunity to turnover ball was exemplary. His decision making around the ruck area is world class. Savea and Squire complement Read so well too in their tackle rate and ability to turnover ball.
Retallick and Whitelock are a superb second row partnership; called an efficient line out even when pressure is applied. Their duel with the Ireland second row unit looks explosive. The front row has unbelievable mobility and flair with ball in hand. Dane Coles will look to continue his impressive form this season.
The New Zealand threat is all round the park and Ireland have being duly warned. Do not expect New Zealand to under-perform two weekends in a row; there will be a renewed focus on performance and execution of the fundamentals from Steve Hansen’s men. Ireland beware!