New Zealand found the missing gears to produce an unstoppable first half in Hamilton, hammering England 36-13 to win the series 3-0.
We’ve been waiting for the All Blacks to truly play like the All Blacks all month. They levelled the 17-game winning streak by the 1996/1997 Springboks and matched by themselves two years ago in brutal fashion. It was awesome to behold. They had only needed 20 minutes in Dunedin – this one was all over after 40. You can argue this was a game too far for England, but even at peak fitness and with all their starters, hell if any side in the world faced New Zealand in this mood, the outcome would be the same.
Malakai Fekitoa did well on his first start, but it was the more familiar names – Ben Smith, Aaron Smith, Julian Savea, Jerome Kaino, Tony Woodcock and the rest – that were a cut above. Aaron Cruden too, under pressure from Beauden Barrett, responded. Savea, unplayable at times, bagged a hat-trick. That said, England were broken in the first half. Their set-piece crumbled. Missed tackles were incessant – 13 in all. It’s not what we’ve come to expect from Stuart Lancaster’s team over the last two years.
Despite their fighting spirit after the break, the result was already decided. This could have been a hiding, yet England bizarrely kept New Zealand out until well after the hooter sounded. Performing the Kapa o Pongo in consecutive weeks was as clear sign of respect towards an English outfit that have made New Zealand sweat.
Good pressure at the base of the scrum from Ben Youngs forced the All Blacks into a scramble, Robshaw winning his side an early penalty for Burns to convert. He hooked it to the left. Fast starts have helped England be competitive in this series but now it was New Zealand’s turn to score first, the ever present Savea given too much room following Chris Ashton’s missed tackle on Aaron Smith with Mike Brown unable to stop the giant wing at full flight.
Burns was on the money with his second penalty attempt, but New Zealand were in a ruthless mood. Cruden responded to his critics with a scything run, England’s narrow defence ripped open again so that even though the pass bobbled across the turf Savea still had enough time to gather and go over for his second. This week, unlike the previous two, even the bad passes were coming off.
Savea could have had a hat-trick inside 14 minutes, if only Ben Smith’s final pass hadn’t gone forward. Three times Ashton rushed infield to defend and three times Savea was left with nothing but grass in front of him. Thriving off England’s exhausted set-piece and their backward steps, New Zealand’s power was all-consuming as Cruden added another three to the board. Burns responded to add some colour at 15-6.
When your luck is against you the running is never easy, so Billy Vunipola’s extremely harsh yellow card for a high tackle of Cruden stuck England further under the cosh. There was no time to wallow, the All Blacks short lineout giving Dane Coles a touchline sprint with only Ashton’s intervention stopping another try.
England were being burned on the outside time and again as this time Cory Jane had too much speed for the drift, cutting back against it and giving Aaron Smith enough room to finish. Having relied so much on their organisation in the close quarters in the first two tests, England now had none to speak of even in defence or at the set-piece.
Ben Smith was also matching his mood from Dunedin, the mesmerising full-back at it again with steps, tackles, kicks and assists punishing England over and over in an outstanding first half as Aaron Smith scored again. They could have lead by more than 29-6 at half-time. England’s character has never been questioned though, despite the deficiencies. Yarde barged his way over for a second try in two games after a good break from Ben Youngs – who stood out – and could very nearly have had a second when he was held up over the line.
Removing both Kieran Read and Cruden from the line of fire, initially lose a little bit of momentum but they left England sucking in the big ones with a sustained period of pressure the oddly ended with no points scored. Yarde was turning into a nuisance for the All Blacks with his powerful carries, the intensity from New Zealand naturally slipping away after such a perfect opening 40 minutes.
Giving Yarde space wasn’t wide but Savea had the presence to bundle him after touch after the England winger had skipped around Ben Smith – a rare sight at that. From their spoiling tactics at New Zealand lineouts to their stubbornness, England were frustrating their hosts once again. Not that it truly mattered. Wyatt Crockett was the fall guy for the All Blacks persistent discrepancies as the hosts finished the contest with 14 men. Old All Black errors at the lineout from the previous Tests also crept back in, the perfection of the first half feeling very long ago.
God help any side that faces New Zealand when they consistently get it right for 80 minutes. It’s yet to happen in 2014.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Savea 3, A.Smith 2
Cons: Cruden 3, Barrett
Yellow Card: Crockett
Pens: Burns 2
Yellow Card: Vunipola
Source: Planet Rugby