HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND – England’s ambition of winning next year’s World Cup on home soil lay in ruins Saturday as they lost 36-13 in the third rugby test to a New Zealand team which completed a sweep of the three-test series and posted a world record 17th-straight test win.
The confidence England evinced after the first two tests, that they were developing a team capable of matching the world’s best, was exposed as a pipe dream by an All Blacks team which scored five tries to one.
Winger Julian Savea and scrumhalf Aaron Smith both scored first half doubles — Savea two tries in the first eight minutes — as New Zealand took a 29-6 lead to halftime and Savea completed his hattrick in second-half injury time.
New Zealand won the first test 25-20, the second 28-27 and those close contests fueled England’s belief of being an equal of the All Blacks, that it had a side of similar caliber and ability.
But England owed its competitiveness in those matches to a variety of factors, including the fact the New Zealanders was coming together from five different teams in the middle of a Super Rugby competition and needed time to firm combinations.
England was also favored by referees who allowed it to play the slow and spoiling style of game at which it excels, while inhibiting the pace and sustained momentum of the All Blacks’ preferred game.
The tourists were favored again in the second half on Saturday, allowed to play offside throughout the match and flop on contested ball. But New Zealand was at least able to avoid a repeat of the slow starts that allowed England to compete in the first two tests and, with a heightened focus on accuracy, tore England’s defense to ribbons throughout the first half.
“That first half is as good a you’ll see,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said. “It’s like the wheels fell off the train a bit in the second half.
“We got penalized three times in the scrum and went from their goalline to our goalline and put ourselves under a lot of pressure. Then at lineout time, we couldn’t organize a lineout call which was ironic because the lineout has been slow all year.”
While England broke the fluency of New Zealand’s game in the second half, it made only minor inroads into its lead and the All Blacks closed out the game with a brilliant try after the final whistle.
“I’m very happy with the performance, especially in the first half,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said. “Considering it was a slippery ball, I thought the boys’ skills were outstanding, especially in the first 20 minutes.
“We put the pressure on and though we didn’t reach the same heights in the second half, to win 36-13 you have to be pretty happy.”
The All Blacks had been aware in the first two tests of England’s compressed defensive line but hadn’t regularly been able to exploit it. They did so on Saturday with fast and precise passing that put Savea in space, outside his marker Chris Ashton, for their first two tries.
He scored first in the third minute when fullback Ben Smith furnished the last pass, and again in the eighth minute when a long pass bounced at his feet and he showed great skill to reclaim the bounce and score.
Savea could have had a hattrick inside 15 minutes but what might have been his third try was ruled out because of an adjudged forward pass from center Ma’a Nonu.
The pace at which New Zealand played the game, and its constant attack which saw the All Blacks spend 72 percent of the first half in England territory, left the tourists gasping by the end of the first quarter.
England No. 8 Billy Vunipola was sin-binned in the 20th minute for a high tackle on Aaron Smith and the scrumhalf fittingly made the visitors pay with New Zealand’s third try in the 26th minute. He added the fourth eight minutes later when Ben Smith broke the England defense and turned the ball infield to his namesake who was running at his shoulder.
England opened the second half with a try after only two minutes to winger Marland Yarde, who ran off a break by scrumhalf Ben Youngs who was the best of the England backs. Yarde ran strongly throughout the second half but with little support from his fellow outside backs.
New Zealand overpowered the England scrum, which is the vaunted centerpiece of its game, and broke down the English lineout, though Garces negated the All Blacks’ lineout advantage in the second half. The All Blacks also negated the English rolling mauls and even outplayed the tourists in that area.
But it was once again the pace and skill which made England obviously inferior. New Zealand was able to play at a high and continuous tempo which the English were simply incapable of matching. On that basis, England’s hopes for next year’s World Cup are much slimmer than imagined.
“Our first 40 today wasn’t great,” England captain Chris Robshaw said. “Credit to New Zealand, they were very clinical and exposed us in some areas.
“In the second half I thought we were a lot better but unfortunately it wasn’t our day.”
Saturday’s win was New Zealand’s 17th in succession in tests, matching the record of the All Blacks between 1965 and 1969 and South Africa in 1997 and 1998.