New Zealand vs England first test: 5 things we learned

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1. Stick or twist

There must be a part of Stuart Lancaster that wishes fewer of his deputies had played quite so well in the first test. He now faces some delicious (for the fans, anyway) selection dilemmas ahead of this weekend’s game. The Premiership final men return, as do Danny Care and Billy Twelvetrees from injury. The question is, is it fair to leave the returning men – who were in possession of the shirt before – out, given they only missed the first game due to an administration error that had nothing to do with them? It’s impossible to speculate how they might have played had they been selected, but there’s every chance that, against a disjointed and off-the-pace New Zealand, their greater experience could have seen England to a win. So, it is likely those that played so well in the first game – Freddie Burns, Kyle Eastmond, James Haskell, Rob Webber – will lose their place, just another cruel side effect of some suits’ terrible planning.

2. Uncharacteristic mistakes

Referees have such a tough job and nobody enjoys castigating them, but Nigel Owens’ performance with the whistle left a lot to be desired. Normally, Owens is amongst the best referees on the planet, so it was worrying to see him make so many baffling decisions at the weekend. There were two knock-ons that blatantly went backwards, as well as the failure to yellow card a couple of New Zealand players. Marland Yarde’s card was correct – once the penalty was given, it had to be deemed a cynical act in a promising attacking position, but why, then, was an All Black offender not binned for their role in the ruck minutes previously on their own try-line? The debate is not whether it was a penalty or not – you could argue it was actually a maul and NZ should have won a turnover – but once Owens deemed it was a penalty, he had to show a yellow card. Similiarly, Ma’a Nonu was hugely fortunate to avoid a card for tugging James Haskell’s shirt in the first minute. Owens is by no mean to blame for England’s loss, and on another day it could easily have been different, but it is the inconsistency in these decisions that frustrates most.

3. Winging it

Manu Tuilagi’s performance was a brutal exhibition of power. You could tell that the All Blacks were targeting him, as every time he carried the ball there would be at least two men charged with stopping him. While this worked a lot of the time, such are Tuilagi’s abilities that he still managed to break free on a couple of occasions, and one barnstorming break in the second half almost defied belief in the number of men left trailing in his wake. England’s midfield is a claustrophobic area at the moment, however, with Kyle Eastmond impressing inside him and Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell, who performed so well in the Six Nations, available for the second test. Lancaster has admitted that moving Tuilagi to the wing is an option – but it’s not one that England should take. Tuilagi is comfortable in the centre, and it is where he does most of his damage. On the flank, he would have more to worry about as he would doubtless be targeted by the All Blacks’ exemplary kicking game. He is one of England’s only world class attacking options – he should be left well alone to do what he does best.

4. A chance missed

There were a huge amount of positives for England to take from the first test, but you cannot help but feel that they might also have missed their best chance to win a game this series. There was no pressure on them, given the preparation and the fact they were missing so many players, and they were able to go out and play with the freedom that allowed them. More importantly, however, New Zealand will not be that bad again. The had not played together since November, and that really showed – they were disjointed, and made the kind of handling errors you just do not expect from them these days. They certainly did not look like a team that has not lost since 2012. The hairdryer will be out this week, the video tapes will be analysed and analysed again, and you can bet that Steve Hansen won’t allow them to play that badly again. England may have a completely different team next weekend, but expect New Zealand to play like one, too.

5. Changing of the guard

One bad performance does not mean a knee-jerk reaction is required – the All Blacks know this better than anyone, with the consistency of selection they have shown over the past few years – but question marks are perhaps just beginning to be raised about some of the older guard and whether they are truly the best options. Several of their bigger and, it has to be said, older players have not been performing that well in Super Rugby this season, and while putting on the black shirt of their country usually seems to galvanise them, it will be intriguing to see if any changes are made by Steve Hansen for the second test. Richie McCaw won’t be budged, but he was outplayed by Robshaw at the weekend, Aaron Cruden’s lack of game time showed, while Ma’a Nonu had a complete stinker and even the evergreen Conrad Smith looked off the pace until his last minute try. In the front row Tony Woodock is a veteran but was hammered in the scrum by Wilson, and the fact that Kevin Mealamu, aged 35 with 111 caps, is their impact sub at hooker points to a lack of depth there. Hansen is unlikely to change too much, but introducing the likes of Beauden Barrett and Malakai Fekitoa, both of whom have had much better seasons than Cruden or Nonu, to the starting XV might just freshen things up a bit.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

35 thoughts on “New Zealand vs England first test: 5 things we learned

  1. Something else learned, is how poor the NZ fans are. As I read elsewhere (and puts it perfectly well) the biggest noise they made was when England kicked at goal.

    Perhaps it is always like this, and I just never noticed, because the result over there is so rarely in doubt.

    1. NZ fans have always been loud during kicks. They really do not understand why we do not do the same.

      1. I sympathise with the NZ fans here – I do not understand silence at kicks. I take part in it as it seems to now be the done thing in the NH but I’m old enough to remember when we didn’t really even do it here. Why silent at kicks? Why not silent at throw ins or 22 drop outs or any part where you may believe that noise will affect a players performance?

        I also find it’s done so pompously now by some – there is a smug air of “we are not soccer fans” in the deathly silence and stern glares you get at some grounds for even daring to whisper during a kick.

        1. As long as it’s just normal noise and not boos and whistles like in France then I don’t see what’s wrong. Surely it doesn’t make the kickers job any easier to be in total silence, I’d find it quite off-putting myself.

  2. Not learned on Saturday but glaringly obvious since, and definitely a reminder of different New Zealand visits from the past, is how the All Blacks and the media work together – completely the opposite of how it works in Europe!

    England, despite running further and making more line breaks, are accused of slowing the game down as they cannot keep up with the fitter New Zealanders. Sadly it appears that Steve Hansen has joined in, presumably to plant some doubt in the mind of the next Ref, making comments about wanting to play faster, and having an “aerobic” advantage.

    I believe that, despite some errors on saturday, Nigel Owens is the worlds best ref, and that he was affected by the clear pressure that exists in New Zealand in supporting, explicitly and implicitly, their drive for rugby success (how else to explain?).

  3. With reference to point 2 now you know what its like to be ref’d to the ‘Wayne Barnes Standard’ in an international match that you could and should have won.

    1. I’m not sure that logic applies, Wayne Barnes is a prolific user of cards…
      Had he been officiating such a match, Nonu and Cruden would have been in the bin for sure.

  4. I’m not sure how much I believe the “NZ were rusty” school of thought. Ok they haven’t all played together since November, but they have still played together a lot more than the England players have, and it’s not as if they were playing to a completely different game plan than their last outing.

    I just think they underestimated England, and will look to really prove a point in the second test.

    Regarding Manu on the wing, it could work. I may be wrong but I think in the last WC NZ had a back line with Nonu, C Smith, SBW and Kahui all playing. I’m not sure now is the right time to try it though.

  5. Lancaster has done wonders for England but his only major mistakes have been when he has selected players out of position. Lawes at 6, Wood at 8, Brown and Foden on the wings. Part of this isn’t his fault – it’s because of injuries and inflexible EPS rules. But he should definitely think twice about playing Manu on the wing.
    If I were Cruden I’d kick all day just behind MT towards the touchline. It’s a waste expecting him to chase kicks. He needs the ball in his hands, making another 80+ metres over Smith and Nonu, so England have momentum down the middle.
    Why push him to the wing? To accommodate who? 12T? We know what he can do – Lancaster needs to see Burrell and Tuilagi play together – that might just be England’s best midfield combination.

  6. Im a firm believer of internationals playing in the same position as their club. Put simply Manu 13, Burrell 12, 12T who has played most of the season at 10 not in the staring lineup. he could be on the bench but why bother when you could have Burns, Cipriani or Myler on the bench and Farrel could move to 12 if anything too bad happens to Manu or Burrell.

    I do think Yarde should go to 11 and Ashton in at 14 though.

    I also think Nigel Owens will look back on the match and be better for it. It’s certainly not his fault the errors which happened as he either was out of position to see or having his ear nibbled off by McCaw. He’s consistantly the best in the world at his job and I feel as though he will learn from this, Maybe the TMO could have interjected for the Nonu foul on Haskell.

    Anyhow a must needed win on saturday.

    1. The issue of using your theory on selection is that it doesn’t really apply to the centres.

      Most teams play with one big, and one more creative centre. Just because Saints use their big ball carries at 12 and England use it at 13, it does not mean England should change their style and Burrell and Tuilagi should play together.

      It of course doesn’t meant they shouldn’t – I simply mean that your way of looking at it can not really apply.

  7. Hi Jacob,

    I see your point and I do agree with it in principle. I agree that the basic centre pairing should be a combination of power and grace but if we have a look through Englands more successfull pairings its been one of brute force – Bannahan, Barrett, Tuilangi. Where players such as Tomkins and Twelvetrees, Farrell (prior to being moved to 10) never had that danger.

    On the other hand Twelvetrees does have 5 tries to his name and as much as I would like the Burrell Tuilangi combo I think Lancaster will revert to the old schema and play Tuilagi on the wing.

    I really dont see the benefit of playing Tuilagi out of position is. I’d go as far to say that I would let May keep the shirt if that was the alternative. No, for me its

    09 – Care -sorely missed last match
    10 – Farrell – I’m a Sarries man but I’d still be tempted by Burns
    11 – Yarde (for the sheer pace)
    12 – Burrell
    13 – Tuilagi
    14 – Ashton (Heineken cup record breaker)
    15 – Brown (who else)

    1. Not convinced that Englands centre pairing have been better with two boshers at all. When I think back to the Greenwood/Tindall days – that pair had the right balance! If you look at all the top centre pairings it’e the same – Nonu/Smith, D’Arcy O’Driscoll etc.

      SL has already said before that he views his centres in that way – one distributor and one gain line breaker. So unless he believes Burrell has a good enough distribution game (which is ok), I can’t see him getting much game time when Tuilagi is fit.

      1. Yeah Greenwood was an amazing passer and reader of the game, BUT he was 6 foot 5 and he did shove off more than 1 prop in his time

  8. In regards to point 1) There will undoubtedly be some disappointed players that are dropped that perhaps played well enough to held their place (e.g Haskell) Woody will take his 6 shirt back – And to be fair he always plays a blinder for England and Saints, However there are some players I feel perhaps shouldn’t be in the squad – For me Jonny May And Youngs.

    I was personally surprised to see May in the 6N team and don’t really think either of the wingers in the 6N supplied anything – Had it not been for Brown the 6N could have been embarrassing.

    I’d like to see Rokoduguni given a game – Given his change of pace and strength, I’m kind of surprised to see Ashton in the team as it seems like Lancaster had decided (and perhaps rightly so) that Ashton doesn’t fit the England squad ethos – He seems a very play for myself player than the team.

    As for Youngs I think its fair to say some Saturday Care will start at 9 with Dickson on the bench

    Point 2) Lets face it he had a shocker – He’s better than that – Let hope the crowd / McCaw don’t get to him again

    Point 3 ) I’d keep Manu in the centre and play him with Burrell – They are equally destructive and if either get the ball at pace there will be meters made

    Point 4/5) NZ will no doubt be better with the ball in hand this weekend, Last weekend was not vintage All Black running / off-loading game – I expect to see more of that this week,

    However its likely we will also be stronger esp in the pack if Hartley, Lawes and Vunipola are in the starting 15

    NZ aren’t really known for their strength in the tackle / break down – If England have Manu, Burrell, Lawes and Vunipola they will have to commit more to the tackles meaning there WILL be space on the pitch – As for fitness I suspect man for man both teams are about the same but England wouldn’t be used to playing that that climate and on a final plus note – The England bench will definitely be stronger

    1. Burrell at 12 shouldn’t happen. Lancaster is clearly aiming for a 2nd playmaker at 12, and that is not Burrell. We’ve just had the best display of attacking rugby from England (6N especially) for perhaps a decade, I don’t want that to change. Farrell especially isn’t creative enough to get the best out of such a pairing, and I suspect he’ll be back in the starting shirt.

      May wasn’t great in the 6N, but is clearly backing himself more and was very good against NZ, deserves another go easily. I’m assuming you didn’t see the baabaas, roko was not good (unfortunately).

      1. Of the the ball he got Rocko was ok against the baabaas tbf, he rushed out of the line a couple of times but when he was given the chance on the wing he did create a couple of chances, but i see what you mean that he wasn’t as good as he has been for Bath

    2. Ryan, what climate are you talking about?

      Its the football team who are playing in the rainforest.

      1. You can’t say the F word here! :)

        I know the temp in NZ is low but I’m sure the air density / high humidity must have some effect – Perhaps not but I’m sure playing there week in week out must be of benefit to the ABs

        1. Ryan, I actually think that there is a roof on the Dunedin stadium….

          Having said that of course, Englands recent record in a roofed stadium is, er, not the best!

  9. 5 things we learnt (from the New Zealand rugby Blog):

    1) All Blacks were rusty
    2) England choked
    3) England missed their only chance to ever beat NZ at home
    4) The refereeing was completely fair and balanced
    5) All Blacks will thrash England in the next 2 matches

    1. So in short we leant very little from the New Zealand rugby Blog – or at least anything that was true :) …Hopefully point 5 isn’t anyway!

  10. I think Ryan makes a good point at the end there, the bench was our weakness last week and forced us to Wilson and marler on for as long as possible despite them being exhausted. Much stronger options on sat which will help us keep tempo high.

    Really hope Tuilagi stays at 13, I don’t think he will be too comfortable turning all the time and in the air. IMO England would lose something by moving him. Burrell at 12 and eastmond on bench.

    Although tough on Haskell and Morgan I would bring back Wood Vunipola and Ashton also.

  11. As one who questioned SL his selections last week and was proved wrong, should we not cut him some leeway if he does try the Manu on the wing option? Although I do wonder why he didn’t try it against Italy in 6n instead of taking off Burrell who was having a good game?

    1. Perhaps – But I feel Manu is an out and out centre and should stay there his strength is on the front foot not tracking back also currently he is rarely under a highball – If they play Julian Savea opposite Manu – Savea has 3 or 4 inches on him and would always be favourite to make the catch – Smith and Cruden will ping ball at him all day long

  12. I just think each time he has tried people out of position it has Failed and for all Manu can do I’m not sure playing test level against NZ for 1st time is right.

    1. Brown actually did well on the wing, and was our better winger at the time. Burrell looked fantastic at 13. Foden was on the wing due to lack of options. Lawes at six was a mistake, but not repeated. Wood at eight was making the best of a bad deal. Not that bad a list really.

      I trust Lancaster to make the right call.

  13. 6) We were good enough at the breakdown and don’t need to ‘break the rules’ to bring in Armitage.

  14. I don’t really get the criticism levelled at Jonny May (or Nowell for that matter). Paul O’Connell said that May gave Ireland all sorts of problems during the 6N. That’s good enough praise for me, from a seasoned professional no less.

    Please lets not go back to Ashton. I remember his last few performances being utterly dismal.

  15. May also gave us all sorts of trouble. Now in the AB game with him backing himself going forwards, most the trouble seems to be for the opposition, and not us, so I’m definitely backing him.

    Nowell is a bit slow for wing, effective, but slow. Fullback please.

    1. Alan, DanD – agree, agree, agree.

      May might not be running in tries from all over the park, but he does look a real handful, and to my mind he look somewhat more difficult to defend against than Ashton.

      A player stretching a defence can be just as important, as breaking the defence.

  16. I think Tuilagi should stay where he is, alongside Eastmond.

    Much as I like May, I’m not convinced about him at this level. Ashton has scored a lot of tries before and has been in great form this season so I think he’s a better option.

    Brown didn’t impress me too much but SL won’t drop him, of course. Although he’s been absolutely brilliant for England over the last year he still makes me think of a very good player who happens to be playing out of his skin rather than a world class player. I still think Foden is a classier player than Brown and he can offer more attacking threat but maybe that’s just me?

    Morgan should be retained with Vunipola used as an impact sub. Wood will come in for the unlucky Haskell.

    I’d like to see Cipriani on the bench as he offers a different skill set to Farrell/Burns but doubt it will happen.

    I think we need to take it to the ABs more in the second test because if we play exactly the same way again, they’ll figure it out and run us off the pitch.

  17. The game was good. Seesaw for 70 minutes. SL called on the bench at 70 minutes. NZ bench made sure of the win.
    Based on this and the fact that SL has an improved choice for creating real world class impact options on the bench who would you pick to make the biggest impact? Hartley? Haskell? 12T? Lawes? Eastmond? Ashton? Subs being utilised at 50/55mins?

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