Blooming Cipriani stars in Christchurch
Tom Hamilton in Christchurch
June 17, 2014
Danny Cipriani put in a good performance for England © Getty Images
The front cover of Tuesday's edition of The Press said: "England wear the red rose on their jersey but roses don't bloom during a Canterbury winter". Unfortunately for the locals, an England win was never in doubt from about the second minute when Joe Gray bundled over.
But this was always going to be more than just a meaningless midweek match.
England labelled it the "fourth Test" while for the Christchurch locals, it gave them a chance to see an international side in action after a catastrophic February 2011 earthquake robbed them of playing a part in the World Cup.
The result is sometimes immaterial in these situations and though the Crusaders were heavy underdogs, they put up a spirited fight. The last time England played a club side in Christchurch was back in 1973, the tourists losing 17-13. A good number of that Canterbury side played in the Test a week later but these days things are slightly different. Even though the Crusaders were bereft of 10 All Blacks, they still left their mark on England.
In the first half, James Haskell was on the wrong end of a monster hit from Jordan Taufua and he in turn looked for the chance to make his presence felt.
It was by no means one of the great games - there were errors, disjointed passages of play and the second-half lacked the intensity of the first 40 - but Ben Foden's piece of individual skill for his try on minute seven was worth the modest admission price alone. It may be the only action he gets on New Zealand turf this tour, but it was a point of difference that would not have gone unnoticed by the England coaching staff.
Anthony Watson's second-half try, in what was his first senior game for England, was also a lovely move as deft hands from Stephen Myler and Chris Pennell put the winger through and his pace and footwork saw him over.
In the run-up to the match, Graham Rowntree spoke on Monday of there being Test places up for grabs ahead of Saturday's game. It was more than mere conjecture and with Owen Farrell out of the game in Hamilton, Danny Cipriani did his claims for the fly-half berth no harm at all with a measured, impressive showing. He controlled the pace of the match expertly in the first half and his sleights of hand kept the Crusaders defence on the back foot. There were a couple of wayward kicks from hand, but those apart, you have to feel he is marginally ahead of Myler in the fly-half pecking order.
At the start of the season Matt Kvesic was billed as the coming man, he was meant to be fighting Chris Robshaw all the way for the England openside berth. Instead, his form tailed off as his Gloucester side fell woefully short of expectation. But England clearly rate him and he repaid their faith with a strong performance. He did both sides of his job making 17 tackles and also carrying well. It was not an easy match for Kvesic.
First up he faced the physical George Whitelock, a man with a solitary All Black cap, and then it was Matt Todd, who loaned back to his club from the Test team and was named Man of the Match by the locals. For Lancaster, Kvesic was his star performer.
Captain Ed Slater also deserves praise for his performance and he did exactly what was expected of him. It's no mean effort captaining your country on your first senior international but like Kvesic he did what was expected and his lineout steal for Alex Goode's try was key.
Lancaster now needs to weigh up exactly who has done enough to feature in Saturday's matchday squad. From today's performance, you have to feel the starting half-backs and Kvesic stand a good chance.
Those ponderings are likely to dominate his thoughts until the team is named on Thursday. For now, those involved in putting on tonight's game deserve to be hugely proud. It is estimated the game will have made the hosts $25,000 and for the locals, it gave them a welcome break from the rebuilding work this great city is currently engulfed in. It was a special occasion and exactly what you want from a midweek tour match.
"It's great that England are here in Christchurch, it's great their focus has been around the earthquake," Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said post-match. "We missed them in the World Cup, so it's just been great."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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