The Ben Smith show
Tom Hamilton at Forsyth-Barr Stadium
June 14, 2014
Ben Smith was majestic at fullback for the All Blacks © Getty Images
When the All Blacks start to tick over and find momentum, it is fiercely difficult to stop them. It is like the turning of the tide. Time and time again you see it happen as the All Blacks look vulnerable, perhaps even beatable, but then they snuffle up a lapse of concentration and use it as a foundation from which to build a win.
That moment came when England were knocking on the All Blacks' door but Billy Twelvetrees' loose pass saw New Zealand counter with ruthless efficiency and less than 30 seconds later they were over the try line. The man who was holding the ball that put the All Blacks into a lead they were never going to surrender was Ben Smith.
Occasionally you can do little but sit back and wonder at an individual performance. Richie McCaw's assessment of him was perfect: "He's a champion".
Smith, who looked out of sorts last week, was just sublime at fullback. His running lines caused all manner of difficulties for the English ranks but it was his all-round game that was so impressive. The ball rarely bounced when it was in his part of the field and when you have a player as good as him, you are going to have a chance. And this was his first start at fullback.
England might have felt Owen Farrell's card was harsh © Getty Images
The same goes for Conrad Smith. He looks as if he glides whenever he receives the ball and his passing is almost always bang on the money. He, like his namesake Ben, is a game-changer. His centre partner Ma'a Nonu might not have much of a kicking game, but with ball in hand there are few better. He had an effect similar to Manu Tuilagi's last week for England, whenever Nonu had the ball flung in his direction there was expectation.
While the All Blacks' centre partnership clicked - All Blacks coach Ian Foster said they lived up to the pre-game expectation - the Twelvetrees-Luther Burrell combination, which looked so watertight in the Six Nations, struggled. Twelvetrees brought creativity to the midfield but he was prone to errors while Burrell never got into the swing of things.
Tuilagi's offload for Chris Ashton's try was sublime but it was too little, too late. They will feel aggrieved at Owen Farrell's second-half yellow card. It looked harsh, but they also got the benefit of the doubt on Mike Brown's try when some TMOs would have deemed it to have been held up.
Sometimes matches come down to slim margins. At this level of rugby, you have to take your chances. It was a similar story last week for England. They will lament a couple of squandered overlaps and the breakaway sprint from Tuilagi in the first-half where he should have scored but for Ben Smith to put in a try-saving tackle.
England played well in the first-half, they were the better team but they left points on the pitch. They will take some heart from this performance with Geoff Parling, who made 18 tackles, and Tom Wood both key players but the message is the same from last week, valiant defeats are not enough. They will look to some handling errors and a set piece that was not as dominant as the first Test.
For the All Blacks, their winning run rolls on. They are the No.1 side in the world for a reason. There is no one quite like them when they have momentum and it is their brutal accuracy near the try line which is a level above anyone else. For England, they will look to missed opportunities and lament the odd bounce of the ball but they have showed more heart over the last two Tests than any team on these shores since that win back in 2003.
It shows they are going in the right direction ahead of the World Cup but that will come as little consolation tonight.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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