Chris Rattue 's Opinion

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

Chris Rattue: Defeat makes SBW a must-have

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Lost second-five's arsenal of offloads, kicks and confidence now essential to All Blacks' World Cup defence.

Sonny Bill Williams' time in other sports makes his rugby fresh. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Sonny Bill Williams' time in other sports makes his rugby fresh. Photo / Brett Phibbs

England unveiled a side capable of winning the next World Cup with a magnificent performance at Twickenham, and one that must up the ante when it comes to the All Blacks luring Sonny Bill Williams back to rugby.

Guarantee SBW an Olympic spot and stick a boxing ring at the NZRU headquarters, if that's what it takes. Twickers told us the big man is needed to defend the cup.

Newish England coach Stuart Lancaster will be emboldened by yesterday morning's fabulous exhibition in the name of real coaching, as opposed to the celebrity-style appointment of Martin Johnson, whose first act as England coach was to cry off touring New Zealand. That era was bound to end in beers.

So dwarf-throwing is out and giant-slaying in. England might even be in the business of giant-making. They showed how extraordinarily good they can be and how much the All Blacks' undefeated run owed to a rich vein of poor quality in test rugby.

Apart from one lame drop-off pass by the superb Manu Tuilagi, there was nothing overly inventive from England although they were a freewheeling carnival compared with the England of old. They simply played like they meant it, gave Richie McCaw and his mates a shellacking in the forwards and moved the ball stoutly to where the All Blacks weren't.

Perhaps the All Blacks remain ahead of the pack, but not far enough that they can be blase about Sonny Bill. They also need to reassess bloated judgments of the little halfback Aaron Smith and blindside loosie Liam Messam, whose heart can skip a lot of beats in the toughest battles.

There might also be evidence the Franks brothers are too gym-bound at the expense of around-the-field spark. Ben had a horrible tour and, more importantly, Owen has stagnated in third gear. The word is that they brook no opposition to their self-prescribed weight programmes, so far.

Moving on ... there are worrying gaps in Brodie Retallick's game and Andrew Hore received another lesson that arrogant thuggery not only crosses acceptable lines of behaviour but affects what matters most to professional footballers and teams.

Coach Steve Hansen froze, failing to inject earlier the energy of the rising Charlie Faumuina or the frustrated Super 15 war horse Wyatt Crockett. Luke Romano should have started ahead of Retallick. England, though, were amazing. Boilovers are essential to the thrill of sport and a ding in our infuriating and humourless rugby cockiness can't be a bad thing either now and then.

England flexed the muscles that ripple through their white strips - although in prop Mako Vunipola's case there is just a rippling effect - and too many All Blacks bowed a knee.

At the heart of this historic win was a midfield of rampant Samoan-born Tuilagi and South Africa-raised Brad "Brick Wall"Barritt, who may represent the new England, a rainbow rugby nation with thunder and lightning enough to create a new order. Their young test team didn't play like rookies. Those who scoffed at Owen Farrell's candidacy for IRB player of the year may have a point, but not such a loud one.

The All Blacks were humiliated, in the way teams like Scotland are against the black force. When faced with this onslaught, the type that greets and defeats the All Blacks at World Cups, lost leaguer Sonny Bill Williams is more than an optional extra. He'll be 30 by 2015, but stays in great shape and his nomadic sporting career produces built-in freshness. Those bursts of genius, the offloads, the big hits, the confidence he brings, the new add-ons like grubber kicks, are must-haves.

Talk of this being the best side ever was always ridiculous and a dangerous folly to revel in. Only a World Cup can sort that out, anyway. Hansen can now make more realistic assessments, including of himself, towards that end.

The rugby year is at an end and McCaw, the great man, contributed to his shoddy extended-farewell present. He's beaten greater challenges - namely a broken World Cup campaign and a broken foot in a campaign - so if anyone can rise from the crashes, he can.

Apart from that, congratulations, England. You were sensational.

What they're saying

* "It wasn't the fact of the victory which was so astonishing, but the manner of it. New Zealand were butchered, hanged, drawn and quartered by an England side who played with passion, bite, style and, at long, long last, accuracy. There was nothing remotely fortuitous about this triumph. It was close to a humiliation for New Zealand." - Paul Ackford of the Telegraph.

* "This was an All Blacks team unbeaten this year, rated so highly that they were on the brink of being acclaimed the best ever. Untouchable. Until now. This should be a moment to savour, the precious unveiling of a priceless piece of rugby." - Eddie Butler of the Observer.

* "By the end, they looked shell-shocked ... At 15-14 down with half an hour to go, having trailed 15-0 only five minutes earlier, normal service looked to have been resumed. Then, bang, they were hit by a second spectacular burst of virulence in a week, the white sores breaking out all over, the All Blacks incontinent, bewildered, delirious." - Michael Aylwin of the Observer.


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- 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.

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