Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: At their best in taxing match

Team showed off everything - composure, set-piece, kick-chase, tactical reading of the game, defence, fitness ... and audacious moments of magic.

Mike Brown of England fails to stop Kieran Read of New Zealand going over to score a try during the QBE International match between England and New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images
Mike Brown of England fails to stop Kieran Read of New Zealand going over to score a try during the QBE International match between England and New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images

It may not have been about revenge for the All Blacks. But it was for everyone else. Of course it was - the business of supporting the All Blacks is much less complex and demanding than playing for them.

Last year England beat them, this year was a chance to put that right. Simple. Job done and everyone - supporters, players and coaches - should be hugely satisfied. Maybe even a little proud.

Proud because the All Blacks had to show themselves at their best.

It was a full noise test - intense, physical, high skill, high tempo rugby from both teams. Obviously the courage of the visitors was tested. Their composure, their set-piece, their technical nous at the breakdown, their tactical reading of the game, their kick-chase, their defence and fitness all had to hold the full 80 minutes.

Not all of that was necessarily robust 12 months ago.

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It was yesterday - or it was for long enough periods. That in itself was an achievement this deep into the season, confronted by a quality side in one of the game's truly great but hugely intimidating venues.

The win gives the All Blacks the opportunity to be the first of the big playing nations to go through the season unbeaten - Ireland this week permitting.

Ultimately, though, what made the difference, what enabled the All Blacks to take control of the final quarter and ease into an unassailable position, was their lineout, their bench and the superior skill-set that they were able to execute with precision at critical moments of the game.

Sam Whitelock was frankly immense - although admittedly the All Black lineout was helped by the arrival of reserve England hooker Tom Youngs who had a bad game. Stationed at the tail for most of the game, Whitelock got under England's skin with his ability to read their timing and throwing.

There were four England lineouts in the second half where the All Blacks either took the ball or ruined the quality. It was off one such steal that the All Blacks pounced to score the final try.

To watch the All Blacks beat Enngland go here.

New Zealand rated England the best lineout side in the world in 2012. In 2013, the All Blacks cleaned them up, out-thought them and out-performed them.

Last year, largely because of the virus that had hit the squad during the week, the All Black bench was emptied early and didn't do much, if anything, to change the momentum. A year on and how much did the All Black reserves help?

"I think massively," said All Black coach Steve Hansen.

"That is one of the big things we talk about as a group. They are there not to just make up the numbers, they are there to change the game if we need to change it or lift the intensity.

"There was a lot of energy and spark from those guys and that made a difference. That's what we saw in the last 15 minutes - they helped change the momentum of the game."

But, as has been the story all year, the separation point between the two was in those game-hinging moments where one pass, one decision or one mistake can swing the balance.

From nothing Kieran Read threw a pass around the corner to set up Julian Savea's first try. The third, the clincher, came from a similarly brilliant Ma'a Nonu pass out of contact.

Such skill is not seen regularly at Twickenham - England arguably didn't have a player who could have made such an audacious play - and yet such magic is almost standard for the All Blacks.

"When you play like we do every week, those things are happening every week, so they are not that 'wow'," said Hansen.

It was a good win, maybe a great win, but England are good and building.

England aren't far behind, but at least this year they were behind - and that is reason enough to feel good.

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- NZ Herald

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