New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen insists he will watch England’s tactics with interest over the remainder of their QBE Series.
The All Blacks extended their dominance over Stuart Lancaster’s men to a fifth successive victory after prevailing 24-21 at Twickenham on Saturday. Of the five losses, England can genuinely claim to have been in contention for two of them – the 30-22 defeat last autumn and the 20-15 reverse in the first Test of the summer tour to New Zealand.
Hansen believes they have moved away from the expansive gameplan they used in June. “Every match against England has been physically tough,” Hansen said. “In that first Test in June they should have won and taken advantage of us only having five days to prepare. Okay, they had a young side but they still should have won. Our guys found a way to win.
“The second Test was an even game, there was one point in it, but with seven minutes to go we picked the bag up and went home. The last Test in New Zealand we dominated when they tried to play us at our own game, but on Saturday they went back to their old style. They wanted to get physical, drive us and out-scrum us. It is going to be with interest that I watch what they do over the next few weeks.”
Hansen described the notion that New Zealand had landed a telling psychological blow ahead of next year’s World Cup as a “load of baloney” and his captain Richie McCaw agreed with the sentiment.
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“In ten months time when the World Cup starts, it will be totally different to what it was like on Saturday,” McCaw said. “You can’t read too much into this game so we won’t get too carried away. But what was pleasing was to get the job done.”
New Zealand’s tour continues against Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday before concluding against Wales at the Millennium Stadium a week later.
Mike Brown is struggling to accept the defeat after conceding England fell short once again. Apart from Jonny May’s stunning early try and the unwillingness to concede defeat that has become a permanent feature of England under Lancaster, there was little to applaud. The score flattered the 2015 World Cup hosts and Brown refuses to excuse another failed assault on one of the southern hemisphere giants.
“At the moment I’m going to have a little sulk because we came up short – again,” Brown said. “If we’re brutally honest, it’s another ‘what if?’. We’re here to win and again we’ve let it go. We’ve got to start putting these games away and there is massive disappointment at the moment. It’s hard not to react too emotionally because there is such disappointment within the camp. We’re just annoyed that again we’ve gone so close. We’re here to win and we didn’t.”
Next up for England in a demanding autumn schedule are a South Africa team reeling from their 29-15 rout by Ireland. Lancaster has faced calls to make changes to his starting XV in response to the failings in game management seen in the second half on Saturday, although the absence of seven British and Irish Lions through injury narrows his options.
“We felt good enough to beat New Zealand but didn’t, so we’ll look at why we didn’t. We have to get over this quickly because we’ve got another massive Test coming,” Brown said. “We have to react positively, but it’s also good to have these disappointments in the back of your mind because it fuels you to get better and fuels you to put it out there on the pitch the next opportunity you get. I hope I get that opportunity next weekend because I’m pretty annoyed.”
Lancaster felt more should have been made of the chances created in an impressive opening quarter, the best of which saw Brown spill forward a great pass from Kyle Eastmond with the whitewash beckoning. “That happened quite early on. You can’t focus on one thing like that. I did my best to stop a few chances for them. I will scrutinise myself like I always do,” Brown said.
England have 11 more games before they launch their World Cup campaign against Fiji, and a victory against South Africa is essential if they are to prove they are genuine contenders.
“The players know the reasons why and understand already why we didn’t nail that game,” Lancaster said. “There might be one or two changes here and there – I thought the bench did well when they came on. Ben Morgan did well. There’s no doubt about it – it is a big game against South Africa, but it was always going to be, win, lose or draw.”
Lancaster could rightly feel aggrieved that referee Nigel Owens declined to consult the TMO for Aaron Cruden’s 14th minute try, with replays suggesting he lost control of the ball in the act of scoring. “A lot did go to the video ref after that. We’ll talk about that with the referees’ assessor in the normal way. We need to look at that decision,” Lancaster said.
Cruden, however, was happy with a score that swept New Zealand back into contention after a slow start. “I’m pretty confident I got across the line and Nigel was too. When it was played in slow motion the crowd weren’t too happy,” Cruden said. “Nigel obviously backed his decision and it was in favour of us. You can’t complain with a call like that.”
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