MARK KEOHANE writes that England, at least until the teams next meet, are in the penthouse and all of New Zealand’s rugby world champions will be made to feel like home for the next six months is closer to the shithouse.
England won a Test that was more a non contest 38-21 and they won it in a manner surely only their players could have believed was possible.
England also ensured international rugby remains a game of hope for those who play the All Blacks and not merely an opportunity for the game’s self proclaimed Messiah to deliver an exhibition of the supposed idealism of the game.
The rugby gods have a way of ensuring this is a game meant for mortals that appreciate the triumph and fallibility of mortals. New Zealand, in recent weeks, bemoaned the imperfection of their mortal performances and turned their attention to an indulgent and self-absored inner search for rugby immortality.
It was painful to listen to how no win was good enough as the game’s best players bemoaned their vulnerability in making mistakes, but it will never be as painful as the beating inflicted on them by an England team apparently lacking in ambition, belief and of inferior playing pedigree.
The All Blacks, strained at the continued imperfections of every Test victory, spoke of finishing the year with the perfect performance but got only to know the feeling of a non-performance.
No English team has ever been as uncharitable, brutal and belittling when hosting the All Blacks. How wonderfully entertaining of the English to finally show some mongrel and to do it with a poise more befitting of the pending immortals wearing black.
England played as if sent by the gods to remind the All Blacks that reward comes from beating the opposition and not the romantic notion of a perfect rugby performance.
Playing the perfect game will never be possible, but the All Blacks who took a beating at Twickenham will know there is something like the most painful game.
Celebrate England and smile. The result was perfect, which is very different to a performance assessed on a belief that it has to be perfect.
The sport needed this result as much as the All Blacks needed a reminder that beating the opposition is still the greater reward and reason to play the game than the self indulgent notion that victory comes not in who they beat but in their ability to play the perfect game.
Players, who have made New Zealand the best team in the world in the last 20 months, will never know what it feels like to be perfect in 80 minutes of Test rugby, but they certainly will speak with authority about how it feels to be pulverised and made to feel pedestrian, pathetic and pulverised.
England, expected to play with passion but no poise, precision or perfection, were ruthless, adventurous and never reckless in taking the game’s champs and for 80 minutes treating them like chumps.
The hosts, heroic and inspirational, led 15-0 at half-time in the most emphatic domination of the All Blacks in the history of the two teams. Don’t belittle what England achieved. Not since Jonny Wilkinson kicked the most famous drop goal in English rugby to win England the 2003 World Cup has a nation had as much reason to feel so bloody good on a Saturday night after a Test match.
This was never a contest. In the context of the 80 minutes New Zealand were fortunate not to concede 50 points.
It would do every England player a disservice to speak of New Zealand player fatigue as the reason for the defeat, and it would also do England a disservice to want to read anything beyond the 80 minutes into the performance.
This match needs to celebrated for a result that balances the world order, even if only temporarily, but more importantly for 80 of the finest minutes in England’s professional rugby history.
It reminded me of Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson as among sport’s greatest upsets. The more the England backs trampled over the limp New Zealand defence, the more surreal it seemed. It was a beating of the most emphatic nature and it showed what is possible in any one-off contest where adventure and belief match the physicality and commitment.
New Zealand in the professional era average just over one Test defeat a year. This was it. The unbeaten Test run of 20 ended with a knockout, but it was the All Blacks who were floored. Ultimately it may prove that the most humiliating of defeats proves the most inspiring of results in the push for a successful defence of the World Cup in 2015.
England’s win was their first against the All Blacks and Springboks in 20 Tests so there is no crisis in New Zealand rugby and there certainly should not be any talk just yet of England being world champions in 2015.
Celebrate what is possible when it all comes together for a team in 80 minutes. Call it magnificent and don’t be shy in using every bit of purple praise to commend a performance and a result that is a contradiction of the player pedigree of the sides and certainly of the results in the last two seasons.
England’s players will believe it is possible to win, even against the might of the All Blacks. And New Zealand’s finest will know it is possible to lose, even against a youthful England.
Twickenham on Saturday will be mentioned every time a team is dismissed as a challenger to the world’s best in New Zealand. It will also be the reminder to every All Black player and every New Zealand supporter that if the professional game’s two greatest players Richie McCaw and Dan Carter could so decisively be pummeled in 80 minutes, no match can be assumed safe on the basis of the black jersey and previous performances.
New Zealand produce the quality of England’s finest moment since 2003 three matches in four. Their domination of the game and standards of excellence often mean that their finest matches are not given the necessary accolades because of all the talk of playing the perfect game.
Perhaps New Zealand’s public will again appreciate what constitutes a fine All Blacks win because they again know what it feels like to be humiliated on at least one Saturday in the Test calendar year.
I expect there to be humility in the post match talk from both camps. England will talk of the need to back up this type of all-round win against the very best and deliver consistently in big tournaments. New Zealand can’t but acknowledge this was a day in which they g0t whipped in every aspect of the game.
New Zealand’s 2011 World Cup-winning squad peaked with the most decisive last 40 minutes against the Springboks at Soccer City. It was a match that defined the quality of the world champions. Twickenham will be the start of a building towards a younger side for New Zealand. That is not a bad thing because what Saturday showed is that if the legs are not there no amount of wisdom, experience of historical brilliance can guarantee a winning result.
England were passionate in everything they did, accurate, clinical and crushingly brutal in the collisions. The result and the flow of the game would have surprised no-one had the winners being wearing black.
Give England their due. On this particular Saturday, All Blacks wingers Cory Jane and Julian Savea were as good as they have been all year. For the rest England won at the scrum, the lineout, field position, ball possession and most importantly in every collision. They advanced metres. The men in black were manhandled and carried back with as much ferocity.
The black jersey is again the cape of mortals. Hooray for that.
The 2015 World Cup again has an appeal. Nothing can ever be taken as a given when World Cup glory is determined in 80 minutes.
England have players capable of playing rugby as it was meant to be played. New Zealand, the bench mark of excellence, have players capable of taking a beating. The challenger played with the authority of the champion and the champion with the confusion and bewilderment of a mere pretender taking a pounding.
Take away the identities of the players and the two teams and reflect on the rugby. It was deserving of a standing ovation.
England believed and the All Blacks were never given a chance to not believe. The blows, all legal, were landed in the first collisions and sustained for the duration of the contest. New Zealand were never in this game and the momentum was always with those blokes in white.
England flanker Tom Wood was named Man of the Match but centre Manu Tualigi will remember this day as the one in which greats were made to look like greying pensioners. England’s triumph was New Zealand’s humiliation.
Carter played with the hesitation of a general who wasn’t fit enough to be in battle. Not even the finest are exempt if the mind knows the body is bleeding. Not even the greatest of them all McCaw could match the intensity of England, individually or collectively.
The All Blacks, beaten up for 50 minutes, countered with a flurry that historically would have be followed by a fundamental lesson that this is a team that can be dazed but never regarded defeated. Jane’s footwork and fighting qualities inspired 14 points.
England, 15 points clear and on the rampage, suddenly led by a point and the assumption was the last 20 minutes would be theirs by default more than design. Every other opponent has imploded at the ease with which an hour of control is undone within three minutes.
England’s players, unlike every other opponent in the last 18 months, simply played with greater adventure in response to New Zealand’s terrific two-try cameo and scored a brilliant try of their own. The confidence of England led to more chaos within New Zealand and the reality of circumstance for once proved more influential and defining than the mystique of the might of the black jersey.
England believed they could not lose. The All Blacks knew this was a day they could not win. They were courageous in trying to summon something but England’s reward for refusing to succumb to history and play the situation on merit was the most comprehensive English win in the history of battles between the two countries.
There was nothing fortunate about the win, but there was something particularly fabulous. England played the near perfect blend of rugby New Zealand talks about, in appreciation for width but with precision and not recklessness, in respect of 80 minutes and not 60 and with regard to an opponent who never lacked in desire but never threatened to terrorise.
This was a day when England looked like a team of wonderfully conditioned international rugby players and New Zealand looked bemused, battered and beaten by the refusal of a team to be beaten by a jersey worn by players who had not lost in 18 months, but who on the day were taken a beating.
The best team won at Twickenham on the basis of 80 minutes. Enjoy it England because while no one can say it will be a once in a 100 performance against the world’s best it certainly was a once in 20.
As for New Zealand it was a once in 21 defeat.
Perspective? Not just yet.
All of England deserve to boast about this one. It was that kind of demolition job.
And all of New Zealand should replace the patronising talk of the All Blacks being a team in search of playing the perfect game to a team that was painfully pulverised in their last game.
Perspective? Not for the weekend at least.