LAWES AND THE LAW BOOK – ENGLAND CLOSE THE GAP
An ex All Black was interviewed recently and he talked about the magic of playing at Twickenham ‘the home of rugby’. He waxed lyrical about the gates and golden statues, the sense of history and the massive crowds. He even liked Swing Low. It bought it home to me how iconic a place it is to play rugby when even the World Champions know Test matches here are something pretty special.
However, perhaps there was a bit too much respect going on as when the match kicked off as the All Blacks played with uncharacteristic sloppiness. The home crowd were magnificent and in fine voice with Swing Low drowning out the Haka and the atmosphere creating spine tingles. The noise of the crowd wound up the excitement to fever pitch and England at last really delivered and we were treated to a performance we have been waiting for for some time. England attacked with verve and accuracy and used pin point kicking to great effect putting pressure on the All Blacks and not allowing them space to attack.
I’m making no excuses for being really positive despite the final result. Forget if you can the scoreline and ponder one simple fact. In the last quarter England held out New Zealand at a time in the game where the AB’s almost always score points. England harried and harassed the World Champions and forced them into so many errors that made them look - if it is possible – ordinary at times. In true All Black style they salvaged a score just before half time and also worked out our line out in the second half which gave them a foothold in the game that they did not relinquish.
England’s defence overall was outstanding and restricted the AB’s to fewer than 20 points. This does not happen often, in fact I think the reason England turned down easy kicks at goal was too much respect created by the continual barrage of pundits, ex All Blacks, journalists and players telling them that ‘you have to score tries against the AB’s and you can’t beat them on penalties.’ Well, England proved they actually could have beaten them on penalties. If they come up against New Zealand again in the World Cup I believe they will trust their defence and take the points on offer.
Unfortunately another refereeing debate took over social media and is still polarising opinion. The Lawes charge down and Sam Underhill try created a moment of sheer magic and euphoria only to have the TMO intervene and ask referee Garces to overturn his on field awarding of the try. I am sure there were plenty of people hastily Googling the laws around offside, the ruck, the break down etc, etc. The trouble is there are so many laws at play in that one moment that you probably could find a justification for either giving the try or chalking it off. Just like the Mark Cueto ‘try’ in the 2007 World Cup which had to be reviewed numerous times, as nothing was obvious, we ended up with a tight decision that one another day might of gone for us but didn’t at this crucial moment in the game. However, we still had chances to win the game in the last five minutes and this is where we need to be more ruthless and precise. Farrell only got himself into position for the drop goal after a number of failed carries and just before he got the chance to call the move we lost the ball and with it the game.
A decision here and there that went the right way for England could have allowed England to win it but I agree with Eddie’s after game remarks that ‘sometimes the game loves you and sometimes it doesn’t’.
The All Blacks had arrived fully primed and loaded with almost their strongest side pitching up for this clash. There was a slight experiment with the full back Damien McKenzie taking over from the hugely reliable Ben Smith and in the centres they did miss Ryan Crotty and looked better when he came on. For England the injury crisis has bought us some newly discovered gems - with the hard as nails Sam Underhill putting in a barnstorming performance with a jaw dropping 24 tackles. Some shift that! I thought Ben Moon in the scrum was to the ‘manor born’ and really helped our scrum stabilise . Once again Mark Wilson showed real work rate and touches of class and Brad Shields is improving every game. Kruis has picked up a calf injury so it looks like Lawes and Itoje to start this weekend which may mean space on the bench for Zach Mercer who I would love to see let loose against Japan.
Eddie has said he will put out a strong side for the visit of his old team and wants to make a big statement. I really hope this is not for anything other than rugby reasons but I have a sneaking feeling he is wants to prove a point to the Japanese team and does not want the humiliation of his previous charges getting one over him.
A shout out to Wales this weekend for beating Australia at last and finally heaving that heavy old monkey off their back. After 10 years of failing to get a win against Australia make no mistake this was big for the Wales squad and Gatland. It was a good old fashioned arm wrestle of a game but the win was the crucial thing and this is one where the performance was not as important as the result. Wales have been good enough to beat Australia on numerous occasions over the last decade but the psychology of sport often meant the longer it goes on without a win the harder it gets. Just ask the All Blacks who failed to win the World Cup for 20 odd years as the pressure gradually built up tournament after tournament.
Look no further for the next big clash heading your way than the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. The Northern Hemisphere will be hoping Ireland can put a real dent in New Zealand’s confidence when they take them on in what is an absolutely huge game. I feel New Zealand see this one as the biggest game of the tour as it is 1 v 2 in the World rankings. Test rugby does not get much tougher than this and it will be a fascinating opportunity to really gauge how far Schmidt’s men have come - and whether Ireland are primed for a real crack at the World Cup.