Stats show dominant strength of England
June 11, 2014
Stats show that England could have been a lot more devastating than they actually were © Getty Images
The bookies' margin fluctuated between 20 and 25 points, the weather was fine, England were without more than half their first-choice XV and handing caps out to men who were third or fourth down the pecking order. Meanwhile, the All Blacks side that was unbeaten in 2013 had competition for places across the park, and a packed out Eden Park was there to give them a rapturous welcome and celebrate with an emphatic win. But the visiting side never got the memo.
Stuart Lancaster's men certainly exceeded all pre-match expectations as they went within a matter of a couple of minutes of rendering New Zealand try-less for the first time in almost two years, but the "moral victory" for his under strength side would have been no shock for the coaching staff at least. The 2015 Rugby World Cup hosts underlined a new-found strength in depth at their disposal as they went toe to toe with the reigning Webb Ellis Cup holders and marked their intent to win back the gold trophy.
But for a wretched opening 20 minutes on a bitterly cold February evening in Paris, England were immensely impressive in the 2014 Six Nations championship. They went pretty close previously to snatching a second consecutive home victory over the All Blacks at the end of 2013, as well as seeing off Australia and Argentina, and a weakened England side (during the British & Irish Lions tour) pumped the Pumas on home soil in June last year. After a few "dark" seasons by the RFU's standards, they are certainly on course to be a threat in this Test series and all forthcoming internationals.
Still, the All Blacks did appear shocked at what England threw at them; but the figures suggest the tourists could have been - should have been - more destructive, and we look at the game in Auckland as a comparison to the trends of previous 10 fixtures for each side.
Chris Robshaw and his England side were unhappy just to get close in Auckland © Getty Images
The respective past 10 matches
New Zealand have developed a trademark style of play over the past few seasons, one that has probably not been seen before (with vast success). The world champions do not command control of the ball but rely on their punishing defence and ability to turn the ball over at the set-piece to stay in control of matches. They have made a relatively low number of ball carries per game but rack up metres as they break the line so often. England usually spend vast amounts of time with ball in hand, and make good use of the pill. Their hardworking back-rowers and the likes of Mike Brown at the back have helped them get on the front foot.
The first Test
There was a similar correlation between the sides' respective outputs, though they were somewhat neutralised. England had more carries than the hosts, as they usually do, but not as many as normal. However, they threw a similar number of passes and kicked from hand the normal amount so this suggests they were a bit more adventurous than normal, opting to ship the ball through more sets of hands. Perhaps this came with the change of personnel and attitude of being underdogs, as England's fringe men knew they had nothing to lose, but it offers a timely reminder for the All Blackss that England may be the only side who can play them at their own game. Particularly pleasing for England was the amount of mistakes they forced out of New Zealand. England evaded tackles, caused mayhem at the scrum and benefited from a number of handling errors on a dry track.
But England also shot themselves in the foot, and perhaps spared New Zealand's blushes: 18 turnovers conceded is criminal against a side with the prowess of New Zealand, and a simple handling error led to the decisive score of the match.
The second Test
England will probably never have a better showing when it comes to their form at the set-piece, but they struck a psychological blow in Auckland. With players coming back into this side England will not be a bad bet to level this series, as they can undoubtedly cause any side problems. The returning players may well be able to force themselves over the try line, but equally we can also expect New Zealand to have blown away the cobwebs. While the world's No.1 side did not take many plaudits from their win at the weekend, they showed they had character in abundance; despite being behind the eight-ball at times, they have a better winning mentality than any other side in world rugby and perhaps anyone in world sport - and that is something you can't illustrate with numbers.
England may have been dominant in Auckland, but they can expect New Zealand to hit their stride in Dunedin © Getty Images
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