England 21 New Zealand 24
A match which simply reaffirmed everything we knew about these two sides ended up giving birth to a startling new idea – the introduction of the ‘challenge system’ in top-level rugby.
It was suggested by New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen, who hinted with a smile that it might already be in place – for England at least.
The cause of his ire was understandable. As Beauden Barrett lined up the conversion of New Zealand’s third, decisive score, the Twickenham crowd started to howl.
The newly-installed big screens at either end of the ground had just shown an angle which suggested Charlie Faumuina had not grounded the ball when burrowing over for the close-range score which the All Blacks’ second-half domination had certainly warranted.
Referee Nigel Owens, who had a poor day at the office, stepped in front of Barrett and demanded the grounding be checked.
One replay showed it was a perfectly valid try, and Barrett went on to miss the conversion.
But it followed a pattern; every time the wondrous Richie McCaw infringed, it was shown on the big screen. Every time a decision went against England the crowd were shown the incident in high-definition.
So Hansen – perhaps tongue in cheek, perhaps not – suggested a challenge system, one where both sides are allowed one challenge per match.
“My biggest concern is that TV producers are starting to have an influence on the game, and it’s not on the away side I might add,” he said.
“If the referee hasn’t seen it, the touch judge hasn’t seen it and the TMO hasn’t seen it then we need to bring in a challenge so the coach or skipper can challenge it. We don’t need a TV producer to replay something 100 times.
It is an interesting idea, particularly if the All Blacks decide to approach the IRB to either talk about introducing the challenge or – more likely – stopping live replays influencing the referees at the venue which will host next year’s World Cup Final.
But in many ways, the fact that replays were such a source of controversy demonstrated how little we learnt in a match that went about as predictably as could have been imagined beforehand.
England started well, wasted opportunities, were pegged back and then suffocated by a dominant New Zealand before a late, futile fight-back.
The game was decided during the 10-minute spell during the second-half when New Zealand not only coped with the loss of Owen Franks to the sin-bin but actually ended three points further ahead than when it started.
They had 86% of the ball during that time and it was clear which of the side had just 437 caps in their match-day squad and which had 1,023.
“When it comes to one team having more caps than the other, well when you lose they tell you they’re too old and should retire, and when you win...it’s just an excuse,” said Hansen, but he was being a little disingenuous.
“If we’re brutally honest, it is another ‘what if?’, said full-back Mike Brown. “We’re here to win and again we’ve let it go. We’ve got to start putting these games away and there is massive disappointment at the moment.”
“We need to marry physicality with game management,” added Dylan Hartley. “We need game understanding to win. We didn’t get out of our half well, and we played too much rugby when territory was a better idea. We will have to learn.”
But there isn’t much time left for learning. England have now lost four successive games (albeit all of them against New Zealand) for the first time in eight years, and Stuart Lancaster’s win percentage is now just 58.
They must now beat South Africa, Samoa and Australia to consider this a good autumn. There was the usual discussion of the world calendar and lack of preparation time for the northern hemisphere, but it has been this way since time immemorial.
“We only need one win and then we are up and away,” said winger Jonny May, whose electrifying early score was a false dawn.
As for New Zealand, the fact their official website described this as ‘untidy...too little protection of the ball...too little finesse in basic play’ showed how Richie McCaw and friends were almost playing within themselves and doing just enough.
“We won’t get carried away. We were just pleased to get the job done,” said McCaw, who must have known his side would win the game once they weathered England’s pressure with just the concession of one try and then equalised through Aaron Cruden’s score with their first attack.
So New Zealand are on course for the World Cup and England are a work in progress. Perhaps TV replays are the only thing we really learnt about this weekend.
ENGLAND: Brown; Rokoduguni, (Watson 62) Barritt, Eastmond (Ford 64), May; Farrell, Care (B Youngs 62); Marler (Mullan 54), Hartley (Webber 73), Wilson (Brookes 73); Lawes (Kruis 22), Attwood; Wood, Robshaw (capt), B Vunipola (Morgan 52).
NEW ZEALAND: Dagg; B Smith, C Smith (Crotty 57), Williams, Savea; Cruden (Barrett 59), A Smith (Perenara 66); Crockett (B Franks 59), Coles (Mealamu 66), O Franks (Faumuina 45); Retallick (Tuipulotu ht), Whitelock; Kaino (Messam 66), McCaw (capt), Read.
Referee: N Owens (Wales)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved