When Dane Coles was yellow carded with the All Blacks leading England 16-14 at Twickenham, it seemed as though there had been a momentum shift. However, Richie McCaw's men were immense in adversity. We analyse how they went about it.
‘Game management’ is one of modern rugby’s buzz-phrases. It can often feel fluffy – as though the user has heard it in television commentary and fancies rolling out an intangible gem to make them sound intelligent. Well, the second half of New Zealand’s 24-21 win over England at Twickenham on Saturday provided a watertight definition.
In rank conditions that resembled a chilly monsoon, the All Blacks carved out 69 per cent of territory over the final 40 minutes – even accounting for them spending the final stages defending a series of scrums. They shut out out the hosts with magnificent precision.
When Richie McCaw was sin-binned during the 51-20 thrashing of Australia back in August – unthinkably for just the second occasion in his career – New Zealand drew the spell without their skipper 3-3. This time, they went one better and beat the hosts 3-0 while Dane Coles was cooling his heels for this brainless kick on Chris Robshaw at a ruck:
If we tick down the clock and divide the 10 minutes into pivotal plays, the collective cohesion and accuracy of the All Blacks is palpable. It started immediately too, straight after Owen Farrell found touch from the ensuing penalty.
9:45 left on the sin-bin – Get back over halfway
First off, even with a one-man disadvantage in the pack, New Zealand defend the set-piece well. England’s maul does not gain any cheap metres, so Care must kick to the opposition back three:
While this was not the most spectacular outing for Israel Dagg, Julian Savea and Ben Smith in terms of try-scoring, they were so well organised on kick-return.
Here, they remain connected and can move the ball into midfield via two simple passes. Though the England chase is decent, Smith keeps ball in hand and takes it on. A slick step past Kyle Eastmond is excellent, but what happens in the contact area is more important.
It is Robshaw that shackles Smith, but the openside is prevented from making a dominant tackle by New Zealand’s excellent ‘leach’. McCaw and Ryan Crotty latch onto Smith, the carrier, and fire him over halfway. It is excellent support play, and the All Blacks can manufacture quick ball for some punchy, sapping phase-play.
8:58 to go – Rapid reactions
It would be mad to suggest New Zealand were perfect. There were plenty of mistakes within their performance, more of which we will see later. However, the responses to these errors eventually ensured the overall victory. In this clip, Aaron Cruden is charged down by the effervescent Dave Attwood.
While Patrick Tuipolotu knocks on in an attempt to sweep up the loose ball and Ben Morgan recovers, McCaw flies in from the right to tackle Dave Wilson. This stops England’s window to counter and the defence can set itself, forcing Care to kick again
8:40 to go – Reorganisation
More subtle brilliance from Dagg is at work here. His positioning is sound – Care’s kick is good, the kind bounce unlucky – then the right-foot step and offload to Kieran Read is gorgeous. Even more vital though, are the metres the No 8 buys by marching through the tackles of Mike Brown and Brad Barritt.
Two seconds of Read fighting on his feet before going to ground are two more seconds in which New Zealand can deploy their runners. Aaron Smith is consequently able to look up and pass to a pod of forwards with either side and in behind. It takes massive fitness levels and acute awareness to achieve such structure, and that did not let up.
8:20 to go – Ryan Crotty goes downtown
Having worked back and retained their width, the All Blacks force England to push up on the flanks. Territory is paramount, though. Crotty knows that, and nails a ‘wipers’ clearance one phase later into the space behind Jonny May. With the ball off the field, the seconds can tick away.
7:25 to go – Ben Smith knows his surroundings
Care’s box-kick this time is close to flawless. It is high enough for May to press and lands – or would have landed – a metre inside the touchline. The scrum-half’s undoing is Smith’s nous. Watch from the reverse angle:
Smith hugs the touchline while watching the ball and makes sure his right foot is out of play when the catch is taken. New Zealand get the lineout from where Care’s kick came from. More time elapses, the All Blacks get the ball with field position – the perfect outcome.
6:25 to go – Aaron Smith’s adaptability
No hooker to throw the ball in? No problem. Aaron Smith steps up and then gets the ball back from jumper Read quickly before passing to hard-carrying Jerome Kaino.
6:15 to go – Backing their skills
In any circumstances, this is almost Harlem Globetrotters stuff. When the rain is teeming down and you have just come onto the pitch – this was Beauden Barrett‘s first touch – the ambition and execution seems extraordinary. Watch how the mercurial Hurricane spots that Semesa Rokoduguni, preoccupied by Dagg, has crept infield:
Savea hardly has to break stride, and does not panic despite not having a great deal of space. On the contrary, he stays composed and chips himself. Holding up just before the try-line, it is weighted wonderfully. Rokoduguni does well to get back, but a five-metre scrum to New Zealand results.
5:15 to go – Busting lungs
This is piece is all about how the All Blacks responded to situations. Here, England’s line-speed and physicality are good and Savea spills uncharacteristically as the ball comes wide from the scrum. Care toe-ends forward, with May and Brown haring in pursuit.
However, Dagg reaches the ball first – he dived into the dirty work all afternoon. But not only that. In scrapping to his feet again, he gives supporting players a window to join him. They oblige industriously:
Ben Smith, Savea and – surprise, surprise – McCaw make it back around the back foot of the ruck. May sinks to his knees and Owens awards the All Blacks a penalty. Another tricky problem fixed.
3:30 to go – Eking out an offence
The 90-second jump here occurs due to some more fine disrupting play from Attwood. He stole the ensuing New Zealand lineout and Ben Youngs, on for Care, hacked into touch. All that meant the All Blacks had another throw just outside the 22.
As you can see, they set up a solid maul and edge forward. Aaron Smith releases as Attwood and Tom Wood fight through and Farrell, clearly frustrated having been starved of possession, is caught offside.
1:45 to go – Relentless chase and recover
As it happened, Barrett sliced from the tee. Even so, in terms of territory, that was not the end of the world. England had to take the 22 drop-out and absorb more black waves. Again, the New Zealand back three become the catalyst for their team.
Dagg collects and hoists a consummate kick for Ben Smith and Savea to chase:
Isolating the point that Farrell goes up, the quality of Dagg’s up-and-under is clear. Ben Smith can tap back to Savea, meaning England still cannot get into the game. In fact, they are soon under their own posts two phases later.
1:20 to go – Sonny Bill slices through
Eventually, weight of possession and momentum tells. From the same shape as the one that caused USA so much trouble, Williams tears through. Watch how he comes from depth:
Though he is felled two metres away from the line, New Zealand still capitalise. Ben Franks, the replacement loosehead prop on the right side of this shape, follows up to play scrum-half and is tackled from what referee Nigel Owens deemed to be an offside position.
Barrett kicks this penalty and the All Blacks are back to their full complement having won the 10-minute period 3-0 with one fewer player. It was a brilliant collective effort that epitomised their composure under pressure and highlighted the difference between these two sides. Ahead of the World Cup, these are the lessons England have to learn.