All Blacks: Henry's men reach summit

By Wynne Gray

They may not have played with the flair they so desperately wanted to unveil but the All Blacks yesterday morning took the Grand Slam they coveted and in the process piled a further 32-6 misery on England.

While the All Blacks can repair to rest in the southern summer warmth, England and the other Home Unions are eyeing a Six Nations series where they will be searching for methods and players to take them to the next level.

It has left a familiar feel to the global rugby order with the north looking at three years to get their teams, style and ideas sorted out for the next World Cup in New Zealand. Meanwhile the hosts of that tournament will wonder if they can maintain their standards to push for a repeat of their initial 1987 title on home soil.

At the moment, Wales appears to be leading the Home Unions pack with a hint of spark about Scotland, while England and Ireland are chewing through revival lessons with their new coaches. How long that takes with England and what impact coach Martin Johnson has will be a fascinating aspect of the international game over the next few years.

England have plenty of forward muscle, they have sparky halfback Danny Care and lively fullback Delon Armitage though their midfield needs attention. Maybe the scrum too after they lost a tighthead on the way to conceding the first of Mils Muliaina's two tries.

Those issues are now out of sight and out of mind for the All Blacks. They claimed the new Hillary Shield as they conquered the final Twickenham summit in their four-peak assault on the Home Unions. But the problems are all in the present for Lions coach Ian McGeechan and his crew as they look to assemble a squad for next year's trip to South Africa.

The All Blacks made their familiar start, they were kept in check in the opening spell by the defence and some of their own decisions, but after the break a double to Muliaina and another to Ma'a Nonu from a breakout in their own 22, sealed the test and the Grand Slam to match the efforts of 1978 and 2005.

The All Blacks' cause was helped greatly by England's offending which provoked Irish referee Alain Rolland to send four of their players to the sinbin.

The hosts upset the All Blacks rhythm in the first spell - they were only 3-12 adrift but Lee Mears and James Haskell had been binned and that placed extra heat on England's defence. Remarkably through the vagaries of the match and the advantage law, the All Blacks did not feed a scrum in the opening spell and had to wait 55 minutes before halfback Jimmy Cowan did the honours.

Once again, in the rapid-fire burst of scoring which has becoming de rigeur on this tour, the All Blacks put on three tries in a 14-minute blitz to take England out of the test late in the second half.

There was only one real moment of England snap when Nick Easter was put in the clear soon after the break before he was ankle-tapped by Mils Muliaina. The All Blacks hurriedly regrouped and soaked up several threatening minutes on their line.

When they broke clear, Cowan was clobbered high by Toby Flood and he went to the bin, further reducing the chances of England's revival. Johnson was diplomatic about those decisions, labelling them "unusual'. He simply said his side could not expect to win with their mistake count.

There was no exultant victory speech from Graham Henry either. He knows how quickly fortunes change, he was cautious but proud, praising his troops for their consistent efforts at the end of a mammoth 15-test season.

"They showed character, they dug deep," he said.

"We worked hard and never gave up, while our scrambling defence was very good on this tour."

Henry has felt the pinch in the last few weeks. The long grind has sapped even his legendary work ethic, research and detailed planning. So his admiration for the players was immense, but he was not about to shower too much public praise, not with the respect he has for his former Lions captain Johnson and not after events of a year ago.

"We look to improve each week," he said."We focus on the now but it has been great to win all the trophies on offer."

- NZ Herald

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