England take leap forward despite defeat
Tom Hamilton at Twickenham
November 16, 2013
New Zealand's Kieran Read crashes over during New Zealand's win at Twickenham © Getty Images
The scoreboard, the records and the press coverage will show a defeat for England; a 30-22 deficit that brought to an end their eight-match unbeaten run at Twickenham. But that does Stuart Lancaster's men a woeful disservice.
The All Blacks are the best side in the world, of that there is no doubt. Nor is there any ambiguity over Kieran Read being the top player currently playing the sport. Give them an inch, and they'll take a try as Julian Savea taught England with two clinical, ruthless efforts as well as Read's score. Faced with a 17-3 deficit, the tide of black washing over a bemused England, you feared for the 15 men dressed in white standing isolated on the field in the glare of the 81,739 folk shoe-horned into the ground.
But somehow, they found some inner belief. Buoyed by a pack which found some grunt, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola gave them essential go-forward. In Joe Launchbury and Lawes, they have a partnership which can carry them through to the next World Cup. In Vunipola, in Lancaster's own words, they have a No.8 who "showed what a force he can be in world rugby". To take his game to the next stage, he could do a lot worse than watch Read's offloading game and emulate that trait.
And then there is the captain. Chris Robshaw has, over the course of the last three Tests, repaid Lancaster's faith. Sporting a highly impressive shiner, Robshaw also showed some niggle. He was keen to make Liam Messam aware of who was running the show and made his presence felt once the ball had gone. It is that niggle and a bit of bite which England have developed over the course of these three Tests. England showed no fear.
For Lancaster, one man has shone above the rest this November. Mike Brown. While he has done well under the high ball, made key inroads with the ball in hand and generally been the standout player for England at any one time, it is his work rate which puts him above the others. Although Savea's second try put the game beyond doubt, Brown's efforts to prevent the try were admirable. He halted one attack on the left flank and then nearly quashed Savea's charge to the try line.
There is still plenty of 'work ons' for Lancaster's men, a phrase the coach used post-match instead of 'negatives'. Such was the level of Dylan Hartley's performance that when he left the field, the lineout capitulated, a worrying aspect of the game for Lancaster. Joel Tomkins has also failed to show his club form on the Test stage and at times his hands failed him. The two wingers Chris Ashton and Ben Foden lacked a cutting edge.
Lancaster will no doubt assess in forensic detail England's performance over the next few days but although they failed in their charge for three wins from three, there are reasons to feel optimistic.
At the full-time whistle, as the press traipsed round to the post-match fallout, one of the ever multiplying bars in and around the stadium was booming out Stereophonics' Dakota - the key line being "I don't know where we are going now". For England this is now clear, this was an improvement, a step up in every area and a performance they can build on for the 2014 Six Nations.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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