England leave impression on Auckland
Tom Hamilton at Eden Park
June 7, 2014
Manu Tuilagi © Getty Images
This was not the predicted 50-point embarrassment. At Eden Park England met fire with fire and for 70 minutes it looked like they might pull off the most unlikely of victories. But the All Blacks know how to win these tight matches, they know what it takes to just get over the line after taking some almighty punishment.
It was an error-strewn game with knock-ons aplenty. Some of the kicking was also wayward and the much talked about All Blacks kick-chase was not as watertight as it sometimes can be.
There were times when last year's unbeaten campaign for New Zealand seemed an eternity ago. They were a shadow of the team which has ruled world rugby for the last few years but they have another gear which other teams can only dream of. Conrad Smith's 77th minute try had a sense of inevitability about it.
For England, there are plenty of positives. It seemed pre-match there was little point in them turning up such was the level of pessimism but none of that came from the England camp. They maintained all week they had a chance of upsetting this rampaging All Black applecart and they very nearly did it. Had Marland Yarde avoided the yellow card, they may just have had enough about them to close it out.
Chris Robshaw put in a performance for the ages at openside while James Haskell got through an incredible amount of work on the other side of the scrum. Ben Morgan also carried well and finished the match with 52 metres to his name. There were also positives in the centres where Kyle Eastmond and Manu Tuilagi linked up superbly. Eastmond made one electric break while Tuilagi acted as ballast and playmaker.
At fly-half Freddie Burns, who was effectively fourth-choice No.10 for England heading into this game, directed play well and Danny Cipriani made a solid impact when he got his chance with nine minutes left.
But good performances and valiant defeats will come as scant consolation. England had a chance to create history at Eden Park but it escaped them.
New Zealand will feel relieved at having got away with this one. They looked rusty but when you have their strength in depth, the bench is likely to make an impact and they gave them their flagging team-mates the added impetus to get over the line.
Aaron Cruden played well at fly-half while Israel Dagg looked dangerous whenever he got on the ball. "It wasn't going to be perfect" was Conrad Smith's post-match assessment and that was a fair appraisal of the game. In the end it came down to Cruden's quick-tap, the pressure on the tryline and the resulting five-metre scrum. It was a special moment in a match largely void of flowing rugby.
"England aren't a bad side, we've been trying to tell you that all week," was Steve Hansen's verdict. For England, they will feel hard done by after a couple of calls from Nigel Owens on knock-ons looked harsh and Ma'a Nonu could have potentially been sin-binned early on - "we didn't perhaps get the run of the green but let's leave it at that" was Lancaster's straight-batted response to a few of the calls.
The second Test in Dunedin now promises to be another level up. Richie McCaw made the point after the game that the All Blacks will have to raise their game. England will now have to work out who to bring into the side from those who arrived on Thursday. For tonight, it is a New Zealand triumph and that has been the case since their last defeat in 2012 but they will now be in no doubt over just who they are playing.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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