The June series looked close, but were the All Blacks in fact a fair bit better than England?
STEINLAGER SERIES REVIEWED
The results don’t quite tell the story – the gap between these two sides is relatively substantial. The longer that went on, the more that became clear.
By the third test, England were flapping in the wind like a torn flag.
The first test distorted the picture because the All Blacks were, by their own admission, awful at Eden Park. Their basic skills deserted them – they couldn’t pass or catch, they ran dud lines and they were all over the place. And yet they still won.
The second test was not really a one point test: the All Blacks blew England away in the third quarter with a three- try burst that left England gasping. It was deadly rugby that England were powerless to stop and two late tries by the visitors gave the wrong impression.
The third test was probably a better reflection of where these two sides are – the All Blacks scored four first half tries and it could have been more. England couldn’t cope with the power and pace of the All Black tight five: they were knocked off their feet in the collisions and the games were too quick for them.
Player of the Series
Tempting to say it should have been Ben Smith – he was brilliant in games two and three, or Savea who scored four tries in the second two tests. But the foundation of each victory was laid by the tight five so it has to be one of them rewarded. And no one did more or worked harder than Retallick. He won lineout ball, he cleaned out, he tackled, he scrummaged and he thundered around the field. He was sensationally good – has a huge engine.
Try of the Series
The first All Black try in the second test was the pick of the eight they scored in the series. It came when it didn’t appear there was too much on early in the second half until a neat pass saw Aaron Cruden looping round into the midfield. He pressed the accelerator on an arcing run, scorched past some English forwards and then threaded a miracle pass to Julian Savea who caught it at full tilt. He drew Mike Brown and slipped the perfect pass to the supporting Ben Smith.
What the All Blacks Learned
That they are most potent when they play Ben Smith at fullback and Julian Savea on the left wing. Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are on their way towards being considered the two best locks in world rugby. That Dane Coles has benefited from adding four kilos to his frame and is an international class hooker in all facets. They can make good traction with their driving maul and it’s worth developing. Time in Japan has been seriously good for Jerome Kaino who was impressively physical at both No 8 and blindside. Malakai Fekitoa is the heir apparent to Conrad Smith at centre. That they have a tight five who can hold their own with the best in the world. That their work under the high ball could improve despite them being recognised as the best in the world.