Lancaster faces defining selection call
June 10, 2014
Rob Webber should start the second Test, according to Phil Vickery © Getty Images
Make no mistake about it, it was an impressive England performance at Eden Park, but under this current regime and what they are aiming for - a World Cup win in a year's time - it was still a defeat. That's what history says and when that happens, you have to improve.
For me, Stuart Lancaster now faces one of the biggest selection calls of his England coaching career. So far he has been a national coach, and a very good one at that but this week will see him go from a coach keen on winning a Test match to a man who wants to win a World Cup on home soil, there is no bigger goal than that.
Although Lancaster will feel gutted at having lost a Test, he must feel content with some parts of the match. I know first hand just how hard it is to win a Test on New Zealand soil. When we went there in 1998 we had a heavily under-strength team who wilted under the pressure and we ended up shipping 60 points. We were learning about what it takes to win in a hostile environment and as history showed, the 1999 World Cup came too soon, the experiences we had forced upon us helped us win in 2003.
For this crop, they went to Eden Park with a similar billing. They weren't meant to put up much of a fight but under Lancaster he seems to build a belief that has not happened since the days of Clive Woodward. I saw the team's post-match comments and they are right to be disappointed, losers do not get anything in this game. undefined
They now have to work out exactly what it will take to win down in Dunedin, which is a tough place for any team to go.
Lancaster will have to work out which of those players he could not pick for the first Test he now wants to bring in. There is a key decision the England coaches have to make, are they looking at short or long-term goals?
Any potential win on New Zealand soil is always built on the set piece. The lineout has been a key part of England's game over the past couple of years and although they were without the brilliant Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling marshalled it and prevented the All Blacks from instigating any moves off this area of the game. During the autumn internationals they showed a reliance on Aaron Smith benefiting from quick ball off the back of the lineout but England stifled it.
This was largely due to Webber and Geoff Parling. I saw my old team-mate Graham Rowntree singling out Webber for praise and rightly so. He was superb, he brought fire and brimstone and outplayed Dane Coles, someone I read a huge amount about in the build up but saw little of during the game.
The set piece is key for England © Getty Images
Dylan Hartley or Webber? Flip a coin but if I was in charge of the selection call, I'd give Webber another chance. I remember playing alongside him at Wasps. He's not your typical England player - he's not the right shape, he probably doesn't tick the right boxes but bloody hell he's good. Sometimes players just fit into teams and as he has shown for Bath - it is no coincidence they capitulated at the end of the season without his guidance at lineout - he is a superb operator. For now, given how little matchday action Hartley has had and though Webber was in the same boat, Webber played the majority of Saturday's game and when you have a solid lineout, it is right to keep the faith.
Ben Morgan is another case. He carried superbly and did his job at the set piece. Billy Vunipola has been one of the outstanding English players this year and Lancaster has a big call to make. In that area it is all about the World Cup - is Morgan his man, or is Vunipola the right choice? I'd hate to be in that position, it's six of one and half a dozen of the other.
Whatever happens in that area, what England have shown is that the All Blacks are no longer invincible. Yes they won and yes they have started another year unbeaten, but this was the worst I have seen them play for a while. If England had a touch more self-belief and nous, they would have won Saturday's game. They were outnumbered in caps and age, but they showed more character.
But there is that little worry in on the horizon. What they have to realise is for the All Blacks this is a fairly normal scenario. They are used to playing top class back-to-back Tests; they under-performed, but they won. But what they might not have faced in the past is a team this hungry; they are so keen to prove the doubters wrong.
If England pull off a win next weekend, and it's a big if, this could be the start of a shift of the rugby power towards the northern hemisphere. England showed the All Blacks are vulnerable on Saturday, now they must go and beat them or all that hard work will mean little.
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