Lancaster's young guns come of age
Tom Hamilton at Twickenham
December 1, 2012
Owen Farrell answered any doubters with a calm and hugely effective performance © PA Photos
It was a day when everything clicked for England. In a display of wonderfully simple but breathtakingly effective rugby, Stuart Lancaster's team produced a truly remarkable performance and one that Twickenham will speak of for years to come. It was a day of which people will proudly say: "I was there".
The All Blacks went into the clash unbeaten in 2012 and on a run of 20 games without a loss. But they have left Twickenham with their tails between their legs and a defeat to their name that will cause them sleepless nights until they next grace the Test stage in June 2013.
Lancaster's team have not really threatened a performance like this. Their play has been disjointed throughout their autumn campaign and while a couple of players played well against South Africa and Australia, today they came together as a unit.
The magnitude of this victory should not be played down. It is only the third time in the All Blacks' Test history that they have lost by a margin of 17 points or greater and it was the Kiwis' first defeat since August 2011. England have suffered six in that time and while they have not done enough to break into the top four of the world in time for Monday's 2015 World Cup draw, they can ride this crest of the wave into the 2013 Six Nations.
It was a win forged on trust. Lancaster came in for calls from all corners to chop and change the side, but he stuck with his team and it worked - with the case of Owen Farrell a perfect example of this.
Farrell could have been weighed down by the status as one of the world's best four players going into the match - following his nomination for the IRB accolade - but instead he was calmness personified and he kept the scoreboard ticking over. Integral to this victory was effective game management and Farrell, who was later replaced by Freddie Burns, pushed the Kiwis all over the park and nailed the penalties when required.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this England performance was the way they rallied after the All Blacks scored two quick tries at the start of the second 40. Julian Savea and Kieran Read struck to make the score 15-14 and bring the Kiwis to within a point of England. Twickenham became pensive - "typical England" and "it was nice while it lasted" were the immediate reactions when Read crashed over.
But, to the complete delight of the packed stadium, Lancaster's men answered with three tries of their own in eight minutes with their much-maligned centre partnership paying dividends. On a day when almost everything went England's way, they found a chemistry that tore apart the New Zealand defence. Tuilagi played an integral part in all three of England's tries. He first put Barritt over the line, after a mesmeric one-two, and then teed up Chris Ashton for his score - following his break through the Kiwi line. He capped it with one of his own. "Swing Low" has never been sung with such gusto.
And then there is skipper Chris Robshaw, who took the headlines for his wavering decision making over the past two Tests, was everywhere. He was playing against the world's best openside, but Robshaw outshone Richie McCaw. He made 10 tackles, England's third highest on the day, was a constant menace around the breakdown and it was only fitting that it was him doing the talking in the team's huddle at the end with the coaching staff watching on proudly.
He was partnered in the back-row by two hugely efficient lieutenants in Tom Wood and Ben Morgan. While it was Wood who eventually scooped the Man of the Match award, Morgan put in a huge shift at No.8 and prevented the previously imperious Kiwi back-row of getting their usual immovable grip on the game.
The task now for England is to harness this type of performance and maintain this intensity for three months time when they play their first match of the 2013 Six Nations. In an autumn where the European sides have floundered against their illustrious southern hemisphere rivals, England have put down a marker ahead of the all-Europe affair in February.
Lancaster alluded to this post-match and the general mood from the players, although struggling to keep the smiles off their faces, was one of steely-eyed determination. It has been an autumn where the England side - who had just 206 caps compared to New Zealand's 788 - experienced wide-ranging emotions but ended on a high. The rest of world rugby would have stood up and taken notice of this result, but it is just the start of Lancaster's plan for this crop of players.
England will have more players at their disposal for the Six Nations - with the likes of Dylan Hartley, Toby Flood and Ben Foden hoping to break back into this side - but there were 23 very proud men on the field at the end of Saturday's match. They had etched their name into English history with just the seventh victory over the All Blacks and only a handful of players can make that claim. But it could only be the start of this adventure for Lancaster's men.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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