England's stunning victory over All Blacks must not be a glorious exception
23:39 GMT, 2 December 2012
The teams were in a meeting with broadcasters in the countdown to kick-off at Twickenham when a member of the All Blacks staff asked a question.
Where should they stand when collecting the Hillary Shield for winning the Test
'When' rather than 'if' certainly jarred with England. Victory had been assumed. Hours later, the tourists had an answer they weren't expecting.
Showmanship: Manu Tuilagi made two tries and scored one
Flying high: Chris Ashton goes over in typically exuberant fashion
The New Zealand players found
themselves standing on the grass at HQ, looking up into the stand as
Chris Robshaw raised the shield which England had wrenched from Kiwi
A week after being booed at the same
stadium, the captain and his team-mates were swamped by euphoria, having
delivered a performance from the heavens and a result to sit high in
There have been few days like it, certainly not against these opponents.
In a year when British sporting
triumph has become almost routine, here was one last instalment to set
among the golden highlights from 2012.
Put aside for now the magical,
startling numbers – a scoreline from English fantasies – it was the
manner in which the hosts shattered the All Blacks' aura of
invincibility which generated such joy.
This was not a wild and wonderful fluke, although only time will tell if it is truly a watershed.
Stuart Lancaster's team systemically
and thrillingly dismantled the world champions. In the post-match search
for an explanation, it became apparent that the backs-to-the-wall
mind-set of the squad after defeats against Australia and South Africa
was a factor.
They had stood by their embattled
skipper and challenged themselves to deliver a stirring riposte, without
perhaps ever imagining it would be quite as stirring as this.
On the charge: Brad Barritt breaks away before going over for England's first try
5 KEY ISSUES FOR LANCASTER
If the injuries clear up in the New Year, Stuart Lancaster (right) has plenty to ponder, with Ben Foden, Tom Croft and Dylan Hartley trying to force their way back into the team, but perhaps finding their positions taken, judging by Saturday's performance.
THE SKIPPER'S CASE
Chris Robshaw suffered in the defeats by Australia and South Africa, then led with distinction against the All Blacks. It fortified his case for captaining the side in the Six Nations but Hartley and Tom Wood remain contenders.
Tom Youngs prospered at hooker to offer an alternative to Hartley, and lock Joe Launchbury showed stunning potential. There is ample tight-five cover, and England are well stocked with flankers and scrum-halves, but reserves are thinner at No 8 and on the wing.
England varied their game but, until Saturday, the execution let them down. The midfield axis was better used against New Zealand, forward runners did not clog up the line too much, and a better chase justified the in-field kicking.
Lancaster and his assistants kept a logical selection policy, even when making six changes before the South Africa game. Failings were fixed between games, hinting at good work in training. The set-up didn't panic under pressure.
The spirit was willing, but there was
no secret formula underpinning English exploits. They simply did all
their jobs with that much more precision.
A week earlier, Lancaster had lamented an absence of composure and this time that precious quality was evident in abundance.
Take the build-up to Chris Ashton's
try. When the marauding Manu Tuilagi blasted through Dan Carter, Richie
McCaw and Aaron Smith and burst clear towards the 22, he shaped to pass
to his supporting wing but delayed for a second.
That made all the difference in
clearing space for Ashton's gallop to the corner. It showed that, in the
midst of a tumultuous encounter, Tuilagi had used his head.
That was the composure his coach
wanted to see. There were various clues to England's state of mind and
their intent to be positive against the world's leading team.
In the first minute, deep in his own
half, Mike Brown shaped to clear his lines but instead chose to swerve
past Cory Jane and scorch clear.
Shortly after half-time, that sense
of adventure from the players in white was writ large again when the
ball was shipped down the line in their own 22 and Alex Goode stormed
He released Ben Youngs and although
the scrum-half 's off-load went forward, this was England using the
weapons at their disposal.
They had the courage of their
convictions. Conservatism was chased out of town. There was a familiar
hallmark of Lancaster's England in there, too: character.
In the closing seconds, when the
game was up, New Zealand's Charlie Faumuina rumbled towards the home
line but was resolutely held up by Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole.
Even at that late stage, shattered from the effort, they had a fierce determination to quell the last resistance.
Setting nerves jangling: Kieran Read went on the charge for the All Blacks' second try
On the charge: Julian Savea scores the first of his two tries to give New Zealand a foothold after half-time
So many aspects of this herculean
achievement warrant so much credit, but the fundamental issue which has
been spectacularly enhanced is England's breakdown work.
Man of the match Tom Wood, along with
Robshaw and the likes of Cole and Geoff Parling, annihilated the All
Blacks in the contact areas.
The usually peerless McCaw could do
nothing to stem the tide and in being reduced to mere mortality, he was
joined by fellow Kiwi icon Carter, who missed kicks and tackles, and was
hounded to oblivion.
England established a 15-0 lead just
after the break, founded on a relentlessly swarming defence, Owen
Farrell's kicking and that breakdown ascendancy, allied to a distinct
edge in the set piece.
What happened next was remarkable.
The All Blacks, a champion team raging against the dying of the light,
hit back with tries from Julian Savea and Kieran Read.
Twickenham practically trembled with foreboding of a New Zealand onslaught, but instead the mayhem unfolded at the other end.
Under pressure: England were 12-0 up at half-time, the first time New Zealand have failed to score before the break since 1998
Metronomic: Owen Farrell's right boot accounted for 20 points
In the space of eight minutes,
England scored three tries. First, their derided midfield pair ripped
the visitors apart, Brad Barritt dashing through a hole on the left and
passing out to Tuilagi, who flipped the ball back infield for his centre
partner to cross from close range.
Then came the 'Ash-Splash', courtesy
of Tuilagi, before Leicester's Anglo-Samoan wrecking ball claimed a try
of his own by intercepting a pass from Read on halfway and first
sprinting clear, then jogging and finally walking over to touch down.
'I looked into the eyes of my
opposite number and said, “I accept your challenge, now let's play some
– Manu Tuilagi on the Haka
Perhaps the All Blacks should have feared the worst when England's No 13 watched the Haka and responded with a big grin.
'I really enjoyed it,' said Tuilagi.
'It was the first time I had faced it. I looked into the eyes of my
opposite number and said, “I accept your challenge, now let's play some
Boy, did he play some rugby. They all did.
England were sensational and the upshot was one of the greatest victories, not just of the professional era but of any era.
They spoke later of the need to use
this win as a launchpad for improvement in the Six Nations and beyond,
which is just the right tone to adopt.
This cannot be an isolated success. It must become the norm, rather than a glorious exception.
But for now, a fanfare is fully justified.
ROB WILDMAN'S PLAYER RATINGS FROM ENGLAND'S DAY OF GLORY: