ENGLAND FANS got a little glimpse of what they hope will be their future today with one of the great Twickenham tries. From the moment Chris Ashton marked the ball in his own 22 (well done for remembering!), he only had one thing on his mind – let’s get over the line and back into this match.
And Ashton’s enthusiasm is infectious. Off he went as the All Blacks waited for the kick to touch. Ashton found Ben Foden and Toby Flood in the mood for tries as well. Foden’s off-load was superb and then Flood’s kick ahead perfectly weighted.
Ashton hacked on and gathered and when he was snagged inches for the line who was there first acting as scrum-half, only Flood. And who better to find on your shoulder running like a raging bull than Dylan Hartley another of the young guns. He battered his way over for 13-20. But England failed to capitalise letting the All Blacks score next and seal the deal.
Ashton has been one of England’s biggest success over the past 12 months – don’t forget he was making his Twickenham debut against the All Blacks, so would have had every reason to freeze. He didn’t!
Others who have to be mentioned in dispatches include Courtney Lawes who played his first full 80 minutes for England.
The England front row got completely on top again, winning five penalties at scrum time.
And the reason I said Ashton was one of England’s biggest successes of the last 12 months is that Dan Cole is England’s biggest success by a mile. They now have a world-class tighthead, who they can build their scrum around and in Test match rugby that is crucial for any side who has ambitions of making a World Cup semi-final. Understated and humble he has the potential to move into the pantheon occupied by Jason Leonard, and I don’t say that lightly.
Of course New Zealand were the better team and the 26-16 scoreline was probably spot on, even if they did beat the bookies handicap of a 13-point start. I told you to back it!
But the worry for Graham Henry must be on this showing New Zealand aren’t getting any better while England have heaps of improvement in them. South Africa also with a vastly under-strength side beat Ireland to show how powerful they will be at the World Cup and that’s before you consider my World Cup favourites Australia.
The All Blacks looked devastating outside today but once Rokocoko left the field so did their attacking abilities.
They have the world’s best player in Dan Carter but outside him they have two inside centres in Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams. Both good players but Henry needs to bring Conrad Smith back in the 13 shirt if they are to unlock defences. Williams’ offload for the first try was genius, but for me he’s an inside centre.
England’s reasons to be cheerful:
Chris Ashton & Ben Foden – The two Northampton tyros have injected new enthusiasm into the England back line
Lewis Moody – An inspirational captain who grows with every game. Like Johnno before they will follow him through a brick wall
Dan Cole – Worth his weight in gold. Tightheads like him don’t come around too often.
Courtney Lawes – A towering performance from a man who hasn’t reached 50% of his potential.
Things to improve now:
The lineout – this is a set piece and there is no excuse for his misfiring again! England need to do what Woodward did and bring in a specialist lineout coach before it is too late. Call Simon Hardy now!
New Zealand’s reasons to be cheerful:
They have two of the world’s best players in Dan Carter and Richie McCaw and a devastating finisher in Joe Rokocko, who causes havoc whenever he gets the ball.
But they need more depth in the front five, a new scrum-half and when they are on the back foot resist obvious infringing, as yellow cards will come in the white hot environment of a World Cup. They have a lot to discover in the next Super 15, but may well do that!
England (6) 16
Tries: Hartley Cons: Flood Pens: Flood 3
New Zealand (17) 26
Tries: Gear, Read Cons: Carter 2 Pens: Carter 4
England: Foden; Ashton, Tindall, Hape, Cueto (Armitage, 68); Flood, Youngs (Care, 72); Sheridan (Wilson, 58), Thompson (Hartley, 51), Cole, Lawes, Palmer (Attwood, 64), Croft, Moody (C, Fourie, 66), Easter.
Not Used: Hodgson.
New Zealand: Muliaina; Rokocoko (Toeava, 58), Williams, Nonu, Gear; Carter, Mathewson (Ellis, 51); Woodcock, Mealamu, O. Franks (Afoa, 71), Thorn, Whitelock (Boric, 68), Kaino, McCaw, Read.
Not Used: Elliot, Messam, Donald.
Ref: Romain Poite (France).