Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Hallmarks of World Cup horror show

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The killer touch was missing but England rumbled so impressively at times over Eden Park that it is easy to see them lining up for next year's World Cup in pole position to win the crown.

A cracking series is under way with the All Blacks facing interesting big-picture questions. If ever they needed prodding in a direction that suggested trying to win the Webb Ellis Trophy with a new dynamism is a safer bet than defending it via their famous old guard, Stuart Lancaster's muscular mob underlined the point on Saturday night. The next two tests could add up to a watershed.

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While a loss would have been a bitter emotional pill to swallow, it might actually have helped All Black coach Steve Hansen shine a more accurate light on the state of his squad. The inescapable triumphalism of last year could turn into a millstone.

Apart from the scoreline and one classic moment of winning ruthlessness, this game had the hallmarks of a typical All Black World Cup horror show.

They were partly saved by a yellow card decision against England, yet another hometown Eden Park call to help raise the drawbridge on the All Blacks' famed fortress.

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England are young and powerful with a game plan as subtle as stampeding rhinos, one which fits their make-up to a T. Crucially, this power game thrives across the park when Manu Tuilagi is in the centres. If England can quickly convert the combative league monster Sam Burgess to union, they will be even further primed to crush and destroy come World Cup time.

They have the type of claustrophobic, low-risk approach that wins World Cups and brings the All Blacks down at the tournament. It is also a way of playing that thrives on the stirring support England will receive on home turf. Meanwhile, the All Blacks are ageing in notable places and Hansen may have trouble letting go of legendary troops before it is too late.

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The All Blacks responded poorly to the pressure, the pack failing to confront England while the backs tried to compensate but ended up doing a few amateur-hour sideways shuffles after promising beginnings. A depleted England squad, led magnificently by their captain, Chris Robshaw, often outplayed the world champions but shot themselves in the foot with poor handling in a test high on glorious tension but low on skills.

Yes, the All Blacks are rusty and there was a shambolic feel to their build-up because of injuries and the form of players such as Aaron Cruden. But they were unbelievably confused and timid, a million miles from the team which ruled the world last year. Adding the absent club premiership final players - led by playmaker Owen Farrell, rampaging Billy Vunipola and belligerent Dylan Hartley - gives England enough ingredients to win this series and the major trophy beyond.

The loss of Julian Savea and Charles Piutau affected the balance of New Zealand's attacking game, but on this quite horrible showing the clock is ticking for Richie McCaw, Tony Woodcock and the Ma'a Nonu/Conrad Smith combo while major health concerns for Kieran Read remain. (On the plus side though, Jerome Kaino made a fabulous return.)

The All Blacks could easily have lost, and might well have but for the Eden Park factor.

The rub of the green, shall we say, went the All Blacks' way in the 2011 World Cup final, a catch-up call for the alleged atrocities in Cardiff four years earlier. But the ridiculous dismissal of the great Bismarck du Plessis wrecked the legitimacy of the Eden Park win over South Africa last year. And now England have been bladed.

Malakai Fekitoa was penalised but escaped a yellow card for a professional foul on his tryline, yet minutes later Marland Yarde was dismissed for a similar offence. Yarde and England might have been hard done on two counts, because he appeared to strip Brodie Retallick of the ball. Referees need to be more aware of context than Nigel Owens was on this occasion.

England were hard done by, and it can be argued the decision contributed to the All Blacks' match-sealing try.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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