All Blacks give England lesson in intensity
Tom Hamilton at Waikato Stadium
June 21, 2014
Three outstanding All Blacks © Getty Images
When the All Blacks were in the sort of irresistible form they were for the first 40 minutes of this Test, there is no team in world rugby who could have coped with them. "It was as good as it gets" was Steve Hansen's assessment. England were second best in every area of the first-half and it was a spell that consigned them to a 3-0 series loss.
To stand a chance of winning in New Zealand, you have to limit mistakes. There is no hiding place when you are falling off tackles, knocking the ball on and failing in the set piece.
New Zealand now have their 17th straight victory and will go into the Rugby Championship full of hope and expectation. For England's contingent, they will take heart from the character they showed in the second-half but they will go off on their summer holidays pondering a 3-0 series loss.
The performances in Auckland and Dunedin gave England hope heading to Hamilton. They were 2-0 down and but for the odd missed pass here and there and some poor decision making, it could have been 1-1. The worrying thing for England was the talk of the All Blacks believing they had yet another gear. It is one thing to idly refer to it and another to act on it and the Kiwis did just that.
England's midfield defence was poor and the All Blacks punished them. Ma'a Nonu and Malakai Fekitoa had the freedom of the Waikato Stadium field and when you have runners like Cory Jane and Julian Savea in your team, it is a horrible inevitability that you will be punished. Savea's three tries showed his supreme level of quality and a record of 23 tries in 22 shows why he is the world's in-from winger.
Despite being one Smith down, Conrad, his two namesakes were brilliant. it was another masterful performance by Ben Smith, an individual with a rugby brain the rest of the playing world must be envious off. And the Kiwi crowd witnessed the complete performance from Aaron Smith at scrum-half. He has made the odd error here and there in the opening two Tests, his box kicks were sometimes off the money but his two tries in the first-half were a fitting reward for an impressive showing.
The second-half saw the "wheels fall off" for the All Blacks in Steve Hansen's words and England left tries out on the field, it ended up being a 7-7 draw. The scoreboard should have been closer but it would have been a disservice to the level of the All Blacks' performance in that blitz of a 40-minute spell.
England will put a brave face on and talk of the positives. They will look to Marland Yarde's performance when going forward, Chris Robshaw's commitment and never-say-die attitude and the impact Danny Cipriani made from the bench. There was also Ben Youngs' performance and he has come out of the tour with his credit enhanced, he did well in the face of adversity and his darting runs gave England key field position.
But when you see the midfield combination wilt under the pressure of the Kiwis like it did in the first-half, there are still more questions than answers for the England management. That will be one focus for England as they dissect this tour.
What the All Blacks have showed England is the level they must reach if they want to win the World Cup on home soil next year. England will have learnt a huge amount about just where they are after this tour, they simply cannot afford to leave opportunities on the field and no one can match the All Blacks' ability to execute skills and accuracy when under pressure. They came to New Zealand in hope, with a bit of expectation and while their performances were impressive, they did not reach the standard of consistency over 80 minutes.
It is business as usual for the All Blacks. They will not bathe in the glory of their first-half showing - Hansen said "we are quite greedy, we let a couple of opportunities go" - and instead they will look to why the pace went out of their game in the second-half. It is that ever-regulatory nature which is why they are sitting here with 17 straight wins and placed at the top of the rugby tree.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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