New Zealand sweep to Grand Slam glory
November 29, 2008
Ill-discipline cost England dear, as four yellow cards undermined an improved performance
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New Zealand completed a historic third Grand Slam tour with their biggest Twickenham victory over England, whose indiscipline and inaccuracy cost them yet again. Following on from their humiliating 42-6 trouncing against South Africa last Saturday, England hit the self-destruct button once again as their most encouraging performance of the winter ended in another record defeat.
England spent a remarkable 33 minutes of the match down to 14 men after having four players sin-binned, and they could have been on the end of a greater hiding had New Zealand's fly-half, Dan Carter, not missed an uncharacteristic five kicks from 11 attempts.
England's endeavour kept them in touch until the final quarter when the All Blacks pulled clear, with full-back Mils Muliaina scoring two tries and Man-of-the-Match Ma'a Nonu adding a third. After the final whistle, New Zealand's captain, Richie McCaw, lifted the inaugural Hillary Shield, named after the mountaineer who made the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953.
England had faced their own mountainous task this week as they attempted to bounce back from their South Africa hiding against the No. 1-ranked team in world rugby. As the manager Martin Johnson said in typically understated fashion in midweek: "It is a tall order".
Johnson will have taken significant positives from the performance - but when New Zealand went for the peak, England were left struggling in the foothills. The result confirmed that England - finalists in 2007 - will be in the second tier of the World Cup draw, when it is made in London on Monday.
England did, however, make an encouraging start. The All Blacks' pre-match haka was drowned out by a stirring rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot from the Twickenham crowd, and from the kick-off Nick Kennedy disrupted the All Blacks' first lineout, allowing England to win vital quick ball that was missing against the Springboks.
A bulldozing run from Nick Easter through Ali Williams set England in motion and the All Blacks were on the ropes as Phil Vickery and James Haskell powered forward. But England's execution in the 'red zone' let them down again, as it has done all series. Riki Flutey, perhaps smelling the chance of a try against his former countrymen, wasted the overlap and found himself isolated. England's discipline also let them down. The All Blacks took the lead from their first real attack, created by a slithering run from Muliaina, as England began to frustrate Irish referee Alain Rolland. Carter slotted the 14th-minute penalty after Danny Care was penalised for kicking the ball clear from the bottom of a ruck, marking the start of a slippery slope of indiscipline.
The match was only 37 minutes old when referee Rolland warned England captain Steve Borthwick his side had reached "the point of no return". By then, two England players had been sent to the sin-bin and two more could have joined them as the indiscipline that cost them dear against Australia returned.
Hooker Lee Mears was sin-binned after 28 minutes for brainlessly slowing the ball down and Care almost followed a minute later for diving over a ruck. Carter somehow failed to punish England as sorely as Australia's Matt Giteau did, missing two simple shots, but the All Blacks edged into a 9-3 lead before Haskell joined Mears in the cooler.
Haskell, the Wasps flanker, caught Rodney So'oialo with a swinging arm, prompting referee Rolland to read the riot act to Borthwick for a third time. Carter extended the All Blacks' lead to 12-3 by the interval. In between penalties, however, England played some of their best rugby of the autumn, winning quick ball to hit the All Blacks with enterprising endeavour.
And they began the second half in the same vein. Delon Armitage streaked clear straight from the kick-off and Easter galloped towards the line only to be denied a try by a desperate tap tackle from Muliaina. England piled on the pressure, driving through 10 phases before Michael Lipman spilled the ball in contact as another golden opportunity went begging.
England suffered another body blow when Toby Flood halted Jimmy Cowan's blistering counter-attack with a high tackle and became the third player in the sin-bin. But they responded by showing the bite and urgency that Johnson demands from his side and it paid immediate dividends.
Ugo Monye and Jamie Noon earned England a scrum after isolating Joe Rokocoko with a brilliant kick chase and when Williams was penalised, Armitage slotted the penalty to make it 12-6. England's hopes were raised further as Carter's struggles continued and he missed a third shot at goal - but then came the telling moment.
After dealing well with a counter-attack from Cowan and Nonu, England's scrum was driven off its own ball and Muliana was released to score in the corner. Carter missed his conversion but pushed the All Blacks out of England's grasp with a fifth successful penalty.
Carter's skewed kick, intended for Rokocoko on the overlap, fell nicely into the arms of Muliaina, who dived over for his second try. And when England's replacement prop, Tim Payne, was stripped of possession inside New Zealand's 22, the All Blacks launched a stunning counter-attack, with Keven Mealamu and Rokocoko sending Nonu clear for the try.
Suitably, England finished the afternoon down to 14 men after replacement flanker Tom Rees was penalised for another breakdown infringement.
England: Armitage, Sackey, Noon, Flutey, Monye, Flood, Care, Payne, Mears, Vickery, Borthwick, Kennedy, Haskell, Lipman, Easter.
Replacements: Hipkiss for Sackey (73), Cipriani for Noon (75), Ellis for Care (60), Hartley for Mears (67), Stevens for Vickery (53), Rees for Lipman (58), Croft for Easter (67).
Sin Bin: Mears (24), Haskell (32), Flood (43), Rees (76).
New Zealand: Muliaina, Rokocoko, Smith, Nonu, Sivivatu, Carter, Cowan, Woodcock, Mealamu, Tialata, Thorn, Williams, Kaino, McCaw, So'oialo.
Replacements: Toeava for Smith (69), Weepu for Cowan (70), Afoa for Tialata (56), Reid for Kaino (56). Not Used: Elliot, Boric, Donald.
Ref: Alan Rowlands (Ireland).
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