Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: England can play the game how they want

The opening of the Steinlager Test series at Eden Park between the All Blacks and England. Photo / Greg Bowker
The opening of the Steinlager Test series at Eden Park between the All Blacks and England. Photo / Greg Bowker

All the carping about England's style is boring. Let them play the game how they want.

They had their plans for the opening test at Eden Park and for much of the match they put the All Blacks under enormous pressure. Their work may not suit New Zealand rugby eyes but they operate patterns that fit their psyche.


Anyone with more than a superficial knowledge of England's rugby history can recall the World Cup final in 1991 when, taunted about their 10-man rugby of attrition, they altered their plans to embrace more expansive concepts and lost to the Wallabies. That memory will be writ large in coach Stuart Lancaster's files as he goes about stretching England's repertoire without impacting on their core forward content.


Rugby is at its finest when there is a conflict in teams' styles.

The similarity about the way sides operate in the Super 15 means most matches merge into another. There is plenty of action but little contrasting chess work or flurries of dissimilar play.


At least when those teams morph into the All Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks and invite the Pumas along, there is some disparity in ideas during the Rugby Championship.

So too with England and this three-test series. How refreshing to encounter a group who really want to challenge the All Blacks and believe they have the format to accomplish that.

England play with a growing confidence and have an expanding group who are soaking up the nuances of test rugby and challenging to wear the white shirt into the next World Cup.

They play with a slower menace than we are accustomed to and in a tactic endorsed by referee Nigel Owens, they soaked up time between set-piece duels. Evidently that frustrated the All Blacks and got up the noses of some in the 47,159 crowd.

On that score England will claim a small victory and they will push that button this Saturday with South African Jaco Peyper when he referees the second test.

Coach Steve Hansen wants his side to stretch England's fitness with continuous phase-play while the visitors, in turn, want to take the stuffing out of the All Blacks through close-quarter exchanges.

The All Blacks can't quibble. Their own game was restrictive and if they had lowered their significant error rate they would have cut into the England resistance far more.

The All Blacks sit at the head of the world rankings and have accrued significant acclaim for their style that has taken them there. England want to bump them off that perch using a brand of rugby which suits their soul, their ability and their players.

Makes sense, doesn't it?

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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