After mixed results against Argentina and Japan, England’s Autumn Nations Series campaign stepped up a gear with the arrival of New Zealand. The All Blacks were coming in off the back of 2 wins but very different levels of performance in the previous weeks, but this week they ere ahead after just a matter of minutes as Dalton Papali’i read the England lineout move and intercepted Jack van Poortvliet’s pass to go over from long range. England were struggling to get a hanhold in the game early on, and when a scrum penalty allowed New Zealand to kick to the corner, the All Blacks maul found it all too easy to work their way over for a second try in the opening 10 minutes, Codie Taylor getting the armchair ride to the line. Going 0-14 down finally spurred an England attack, and after winning a penalty they kicked to the corner, only for their maul set-up to be pinged for obstruction. Ill discipline and inaccurate play were costing England, and when Ardie Savea pounced on van Poortvliet not controlling the ball well enough at the back of a ruck deep in his own 22, it sparked an attack that ended in a try beneath the posts for Rieko Ioane, only for the TMO to spot a neck roll from him a few phases earlier to let England off. England’s next attack ended in a fumble from Jonny Hill close tot he try line, but when Richie Mo’unga saw a pass fly out of his hands horribly wrong in his own 22, England were gifted with a central scrum, a penalty against Tyrel Lomax gave Owen Farrell the simplest of kicks at goal after 25 minutes. As the clock ticked down on the first half, New Zealand had time for one last attack, only for Jordie Barrett to knock on with the line at his mercy, and while an attempted tackle by Ellis Genge hat involved head-to-head contact was ignored by officials, a penalty against the prop for offsie allowed Jordie Barrett to kick the All Blacks into a 3-17 lead at the break.

With Owen Farrell struggling with a knock picked up lae in the first half, Marcus Smith took over kicking duties and had an easy first kick just minutes into the second half, and a clever delayed pass from the flyhalf on the edge of the visitors 22 sent Manu Tuilagi up to the try line, but after a series of pick-and-gos from the forwards, New zealand won the penalty for the latcher going off their feet while the backs were left looking at the wide open space they had in front of them. And they were made to pay minutes later as a clever crossfield kick to Caleb Clarke coming infield allowed him to release the looping Rieko Ioane, who otpaced everyone to run in unchallenged from is own 22. A clever flat pass from Owen Farrell set Luke Cowan-Dickie charging into the 22, but yet another attack came to nothing as Brodie Retallick waited for van Poortvliet to pick up the ball and hooked his arm as he passed to force the knock on. England kept coming with the attacks, but New Zealand’s defence were finding it too easy to stop them when things got dangerous and turn the ball over. England continued to create chances that they couldn’t finish, while as the game entered the final 10 minutes, Beauden Barrett landed a drop goal to stretch the lead to 19. Barrett’s next involvement was much more cynical, killing the ball as Marcus Smith’s break was stopped just short of the line, and he found himself sent to the bin, while Will Stuart was adjudged to have scored his first England try on the next phase. And England took full advantage of the extra man to strike again just minutes later, with Freddie Steward going over out wide, Marcus Smith cutting the deficit to 7 with the conversion. And with just 2 minutes remaining, England completed the turnaround as Stuart crashed over from close range, Smith’s conversion trying the game with a minute left. It all came down to the restart, and ENgland secured the ball, with Marcus Smith choosing to kick the ball out to end the game as a 25-25 draw.

Learning opportunity

This is not a match that Jack van Poortvliet will look back at fondly. The young scrum half has been fantastic for England, but had a torrid day against the All Blacks.

Right from the opening minutes, the rote attack of Eddie Jones’ England was laid bare as they looked to throw a long lineout and then go off the top, and while a more experienced 9 may have recognised that the lineout going beyond the 15m line would have given the rear gunner extra time to get up in the passing lane, this was missed by the young Tiger, who saw his pass picked off as easy as you like for an early New Zealand try.

Not long after this, a box kick sailed far too long, allowing New Zealand to gather and call the mark with no pressure, while at the other end of the pitch, he was caught out taking too long at the back of a ruck where the ball was to the side of the hindmost foot rather than under it—therefore technically being out of the ruck—and this gave Ardie Savea the extra fraction of a second he needed to attack him and make the tackle during the kick motion. And then sadly his final act of the game was to knock on as Brodie Retallick perfectly timed a hook of his arm as he tried to play away from the breakdown.

While it was a poor game, it was probably actually what a young 9 like him needed. It was a reminder of the extra pressures of playing at Test level and the quality that you will be up against. Your kicks and passes have to be that extra inch more accurate, and there is that yard less before a defender is in your face. The key for him is to look back at this match as a learning experience and aim to be back to his usual standard next week.

Of course, that is assuming Eddie doesn’t do his usual thing of now dropping him from the 23 and all future squads off the back of 1 bad game…

Playing with the big boys

New Zealand may not be the team that they used to be after years of stagnation under Ian Foster. However, what they still are is a bunch of very skilled—and more importantly very big—players. And England showed exactly how not to attack against them. While they frequently got through the All Blacks’ defensive line with a clever tip on or flat pass at the line, they then tried to make it a physical battle to get over the line.

So let’s look at that New Zealand defence. While you may rightly query Bower’s workrate in defence, he is as physical as anyone else in the New Zealand front row, while playing Scott Barrett at 6 added extra physicality, Papali’i adds much more than Sam Cane at 7, and everyone knows that Ardie Savea is physicality personified! Then in the backs, playmakers Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett’s strength and defensive ability is often overlooked as people focus on their attacking skill, Jordie Barrett has added extra physicality to the 12 position since replacing David Havili, while Rieko Ioane’s strength is often forgotten as people talk about his pace. Then finally on the wings, you have Caleb Clarke, whose strength is clear to all, and Mark Telea, who more that holds his own as well.

So when you look at this team, it is very clear that you don’t want to take them on physically, as there are very few teams who will be able to match them in this department. Instead, they key is to working the shapes and the space, utilising clever tip-ons and running lines to keep the defence on their toes, and most importantly, avoiding your pack getting white line fever and getting it out to the backs once the space is there.

It’s noticeable that with the extra space provided by Beauden Barrett’s yellow card, England put more focus on attacking the space once they reached the 22, and in doing so, they completed the comeback. The complete difference between the first 70 minutes and the final 10 minutes shows just how important it is to target the right areas when attacking New Zealand.

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