England dent All Blacks aura
But Lancaster refuses to get carried away by record victory
England 38New Zealand 21
Published 03/12/2012 | 05:00
The champagne corks had barely started popping at the end of one of the most astonishing afternoons that Twickenham had ever witnessed when Stuart Lancaster came out with a phrase that told you that this side would not be getting carried away by any fanciful notions of themselves, no matter that they had every right to do just that.
"I'm a Cumbrian," said the farmer's son from the far north of England, a toiler and a grafter with no airs and graces. Another day will dawn and the soil will have to be tilled again.
In another part of a crowded back-room at a stadium still reverberating from the extraordinary deeds, England backs coach Andy Farrell was paying tribute to the day-to-day upbeat nature of Lancaster's regime, that relentless nurturing of belief and enthusiasm that had come spilling out across the Twickenham turf in such glorious fashion.
England had out-All Blacked the All Blacks. Three tries in eight bewildering minutes of the second half was the signature act of the lot feared the length and breadth of the rugby world.
Staid, stodgy, callow, feckless, one-paced England were supposed to be adhering to another script entirely. Manu Tuilagi, scorer of one try, creator of mayhem, was told that Dan Carter believed the Samoan-born centre could become England's Ma'a Nonu.
"Dan Cole said that?" said the wide-eyed one, a kid with a smile on his face at the haka and thunder in his shoes all afternoon, making a muddle of names as much as he had made a mess of the New Zealand defence. Tuilagi is a force of nature, a naif, an innocent warrior. His time well and truly came on Saturday. As England players held court, faces beaming but no egos preening, New Zealand captain Richie McCaw shuffled towards the stairway, reaching into his pocket to stare at a mobile phone screen as if it could rewind the nightmare in which he was trapped.
Not even a Silicon Valley techno-genius could deliver that one. It was not quite on a par with the 2007 World Cup quarter-final calamity in Cardiff but it was an affront to Kiwi sensibilities nonetheless. McCaw is now taking a six-month sabbatical from the game. Poor man. Wherever he lays his sleeping roll in the coming months, there will be a rock under it.
New Zealanders set great store on honouring the jersey. This result will be a stain not easily removed. Heaviest defeat, biggest margin, second worst in history – the ledger is edged in dark tones. There had been norovirus in the New Zealand camp all week. A dose of hubris more like.
But just as one dreadful setback does not make the All Blacks a poor side, so one victory plucked from the outer reaches of fantasy does not make England a great one. Far from it. Lancaster makes no claim on that, a reassuring sign for England. Excess does not feature in his make-up.
"I can't for one minute see that thought taking root," said Lancaster when asked if his team might suffer from delusions of grandeur now, a sense that they had cracked it. "We're too pragmatic to allow that to happen. I'm already thinking how we're going to plan for our pre-Six Nations camp in Leeds."
Back to basics then for England after this dizzying high, a return to the boot camp where it all began last January, the reconnection with the grassroots and the delousing of all those World Cup bad habits.
Only five of the starting XV on Saturday had featured in that doomed campaign in New Zealand. Wing Chris Ashton was one of those, a character snared occasionally by his own excesses, a player much valued nonetheless by Lancaster, even though he had yet to score for him.
Eleven Tests had passed without Ashton troubling the scorers. The drought certainly troubled him. It ended courtesy of a trademark Tuilagi burst, Ashton unable to resist his swallow-dive celebration albeit a toned-down version as if aware that headmaster Lancaster might frown on such self-indulgence. "I had no intention of doing it, I've no idea where it came from but not scoring had been killing me, killing me," said Ashton, who announced himself to a wider sporting world with his length-of-the-field try against Australia two years ago.
Many thought then as the Wallabies were routed that England's time had arrived. And this Second Coming? "It's very different, the whole culture has changed."
That sense of togetherness was evident in the way England hunted as a pack, forward and back alike, smashing New Zealand in the contact area, the phase of play which set the tone of the match.
The All Blacks were throttled at source, made to look mere mortals. Their aura lay strewn across the Twickenham turf. England may have had the rage of the damned spurring them on, but they retained the sang-froid of an ice maiden. They rattled New Zealand not only with their ferocity but also with the wisdom of their decision-making. Tom Wood, Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling – the roll-call of gladiators in the forwards could stretch to all eight of them.
Chris Robshaw was a sterling figure, weathering all that had come his way during the week and proving steadfast on the field. England had a significant edge in the forward battle.
And the ball was well used. In the first half it was all about pressure and patience. The yield was four penalties from the unflappable Owen Farrell. Another followed shortly after the break. 15-0. Then the madness began.
Two tries from New Zealand, through Julian Savea and Kieran Read, threatened to destabilise England.
The next few minutes showed why so much hope can be invested in this England generation. They didn't fold, they grew. Tries from Brad Barritt, Ashton and Tuilagi sealed the deal, a late foray from Savea apart.
Fittingly, 'The Hobbit' premiered in New Zealand last week. That is exactly where England buried this vaunted All Black side – right back in Middle Earth. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
England – A Goode; C Ashton, M Tuilagi (J Joseph 66), B Barritt, M Brown; O Farrell (F Burns 64), B Youngs (D Care 68); A Corbisiero (M Vunipola 66), T Youngs (D Paice72), D Cole; J Launchbury (C Lawes 66), G Parling; T Wood, C Robshaw, B Morgan (J Haskell 57).
New Zealand – I Dagg (B Smith 71); C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, J Savea; D Carter (A Cruden 64), A Smith (P Weepu 64); T Woodcock (W Crockett 66), K Mealamu (D Coles 62), O Franks (C Faumuina 52); B Retallick (L Romano 48), S Whitelock; L Messam (V Vito 63), R McCaw, K Read.
Ref – G Clancey (IRFU)