>> Gallagher: Hideous law protects scrum-halves
E“If that was offside officialdom missed another ten offsides yesterday”
DDIE JONES apparently wants his England side to start making the movies not watching them and during yesterday’s matinee showing at Twickenham they unquestionably shared star billing with the world champions and number one ranked side.
Ultimately, we were denied the happy rose-tinted ending that Hollywood normally demands but it was compelling box office fare nonetheless, a high quality game in filthy conditions.
There were of course some mysterious plotlines which left you scratching your head and arguing heatedly in the bar afterwards and guessing what the critics will be writing in the morning.
Why was Dylan Hartley, picking off double top with nonchalance in the appalling weather and generally enjoying his best game for a couple of years, replaced at half-time? After which the England lineout fell apart. Did Jamie George blow his lines or was it a collective failure? Or was it just down to the brilliant of Brodie Retallick?
Why did Jerome Garces – who had the most perfect vantage point in all of Twickenham for the controversial call on Courtney Lawes – allow himself to be almost lectured like a naughty schoolboy by the TMO when only this week World Rugby reiterated that they want the TMO involved less and the referee to lead the discussion at all times.
To these eyes the ball had cleared the back of the ruck so you could argue it was in play and TJ Peranara no longer had that protection of being able to just rest his hands on the ball, a hideous law amendment which slows the game down horribly and penalises the team attempting to defend to a ridiculous degree. Lawes challenge was as perfectly timed as it possible to be.
If that was offside officialdom missed another ten offsides yesterday but having said all that there is no question that England rode their luck last week.
These things always even themselves out but frustratingly you can never dictate when Lady Luck looks your way. England to a man would trade that win over South Africa for a victory over
New Zealand last night
The other mystery is why did England make such a hash of what should have been the match winning dropped goal in the 78th minute? We have all seen that film many time before and know exactly how it should end. In fact we possibly became a bit bored with it, so much so that it went out of fashion.
The screen directions should go something like this: Sargeant major scrum-half barks orders at his pack, guides them this way or that while never passing the ball more than about three feet and then when the moment is right, he fires a pass back to the blond bloke in the pocket who pops over the winning goal.
Jonny Wilkinson, for he was that man, found himself cast in that role throughout his career and became word perfect, in fact he banged over 36 Test dropped goals during his career. I wonder what he was thinking up in the stands yesterday.
“Why did England make a hash of what should have been the winning dropped goal in the 78th minute?”
The thing about dropped goals is that the support cast is everything, despite appearances they are the ultimate team effort.
It was no good yesterday Owen Farrell and George Ford dropping back into the pocket and making themselves available if the forwards in front of them are just hammering away making random yardage. There needs to be a clear call so that everybody knows what the plan is.
It is possibly cruel to single out Courtney Lawes because the big man was generally magnificent off the bench for England – during his first spell he made eight hits in ten minutes – but what on earth was he thinking off heading for the wide spaces and throwing out such a wild pass? Baffling. And costly.
England will know deep down they should probably have won yesterday but they showed enough in defeat to convince most observers that the big bounce back they need after a fairly miserable 2018 is well underway.
In appalling conditions, they played with precision intelligence and unremitting passion to make New Zealand look pretty ordinary in the first half hour.
The stats will tell you that the All Blacks still shaded the territory and possession during this period but don’t be fooled – the quality of England’s defence had them actually controlling proceedings.
Chris Ashton – thought by some to be a star of yesteryear but making a well publicised comeback – took just two minutes to do what he does best and nip in for a try and impressed with a number of touches throughout, so much so it was a surprise to see him come off.
Ashton can always produce the unexpected and there was just one point between the teams. You looked around and wondered who was most likely to conjure some points for England and behind Owen Farrell it is Ashton every time.
Sam Underhill was the stand out, though. His tackling was immense and very confrontational while staying within the laws – in fact it was textbook and many would do well to emulate his technique – but he will be remembered for ever for one of the best and most dramatic nontries in history.
The way he shredded Beauden Barrett was sensational although alas it ended up on the cutting room floor!
All action: Jack Goodhue feels the Courtney Lawes power