The All Blacks scored a late Conrad Smith try to deny England a famous Eden Park result in what was a scrappy yet thrilling Test match on Saturday. The hosts snuck it 20-15 with minutes to spare, but England will take heart from their performance.
As we’ve come to expect with New Zealand, even when they play badly they somehow manage to win. This was the case in Auckland after a rusty showing that will surely be their weakest of the season. Dropped balls and a weak scrum nearly led to an upset in the opening game of the series.
England, fielding a weakened side that didn’t include those that took part in the Premiership final, took it to the hosts and with new flyhalf Freddie Burns kicking superbly, stayed in the match right up until the death. They’ll rue missed opportunities, as the game was there for the taking.
“I have mixed emotions at the moment,” Burns said post match. “First and foremost it’s gutting because as a team we gave ourselves an opportunity to get something from the game. To be pipped like we were at the end is gutting.
“But personally I was happy with how I went. Hopefully I silenced a few critics. I’ve never doubted myself, especially in this environment. Hopefully I’ve proved I can manage a game and kick my goals in the toughest rugby arena in the world.”
It’ll be all change for the second Test next weekend, but Stuart Lancaster has some tough selection issues to contend with. As the cliche goes, it’s a good problem to have.
“We don’t want to get carried away as we didn’t win the game, we lost,” said Lancaster. “We have to make sure we rectify that next week.
With less territory and possesion, the All Blacks will be pleased to have snatched victory but no doubt realise that they’ll need to be more accurate and clinical come next weekend.
“We got there in the end but we need to be a lot better going into the second Test because we expect England to be better,” captain Richie McCaw said. “We got what we expected from England. It was pretty competitive around the breakdown and we expected the physicality they showed.
“We were a bit rusty in the first half. Test rugby is a step up in intensity and pace and it felt like we were half a yard off it,” added McCaw.