Jimmy Cowan’s second half try helped the All Blacks to a 19-6 victory over England at Twickenham.
After two woeful performances against Australia and Argentina respectively Martin Johnson’s England side produced a vastly improved display against New Zealand but it ultimately wasn’t enough as the Kiwi’s ground out a deserved win.
While the England manager will have been pleased with his team’s physicality and defensive effort, his men lacked the discipline and accuracy to ever really trouble the All Blacks.
New Zealand were once again far from their best, but were a class apart at scrum time and ultimately had too much for their opponents on the day.
England started well but were dealt a blow early on when Joe Worsley was injured and eventually replaced by Tom Croft after just two minutes.
The first point-scoring opportunity fell to the visitors when Lewis Moody was penalised for blatantly entering the ruck from the side. But much to the dismay of the crowd Dan Carter missed the kick that would have seen him surpass Andrew Merhtens’ All Blacks point-scoring record and the scores remained deadlocked.
Despite the early opportunity for Carter and a couple of cynical infringements, England had certainly started the better off the two teams and the bulk of the English fans thought Ugo Monye had given their side the lead in the 11th minute, but he was adjudged to have knocked the ball on in the process of stopping Conrad Smith.
Just four minutes later though and England were finally rewarded for their endeavour as Jonny Wilkinson slotted a penalty after the Kiwis were penalised for not rolling away as referee Jonathan Kaplan continued to stringently govern the breakdown.
If England had forgotten about the attacking threat the All Blacks possessed they were quickly reminded on 18 minutes when from nowhere the visitors spread it wide to Mils Muliaina who was only prevented from scoring the first try of the game by some excellent cover defence from Monye.
Carter eventually, and rightfully, took his place as New Zealand’s all time point-scorer when he nailed a monster kick just inside England’s half to level the scores.
While neither team’s kicking game deserved any notable praise in the first half, the Kiwi pack certainly had the upper hand at scrum time after their mauling at the hands of the Italian scrum last week in Milan.
The two flyhalves exchanged kicks again before yet another poor England scrum presented Carter with an opportunity to put his side in the lead for the first time. Yet once again Carter’s ever-reliable left boot let him down and England breathed a collective sigh of relief as the teams went in level at the break.
The Kiwis finally took the lead just four minutes into the second stanza as England were yet again blown up for a ruck infringement. But while Carter converted the opportunity it was hardly accomplished in the smooth, metronomic style rugby fans have come to expect from the All Blacks flyhalf.
But despite their talisman’s somewhat shaky form, the All Blacks were starting to build up some momentum and finally got the first try of the game with just over a quarter of the game left to play.
The move began from yet another dominant scrum before the ball was spread wide to Sitiveni Sivivatu who spotted a gap and managed to find his skipper Richie McCaw who produced a world-class offload to Jimmy Cowan who rounded off the move.
True to his Jekyll and Hyde performance Carter nailed the resulting conversion from the left touchline to give his team a 16-6 lead.
Having made almost twice as many tackles as their opponents it was inevitable that the hosts would begin to tire and naturally the gaps started to open up for Graham Henry’s troops.
In the end the England defence managed to keep them at bay and keep the score line respectable.
England will certainly take some pride from their performance, but they are still along way from being able to compete with the best the southern hemisphere has to offer and Johnson certainly has a lot of work to do.
New Zealand on the other hand showed enough to deserve the win, the All Blacks still looked far from their best and will certainly need to up their game if they hope to fend off the French next week who will certainly offer more up front.
By Andrew Worling