Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks leave it late

Conrad Smith scores the match-winner for the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images
Conrad Smith scores the match-winner for the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images

All Blacks 20 England 15
Even by first game of the season standards, this was an ugly, wart-ridden test that had a save-all redeeming feature in that the the All Blacks won it.


Victory, however it comes, is still victory and winning breeds confidence; winning matters as long as the All Blacks don't convince themselves they can play with such inaccuracy and escape again.

This win at the death thing really is becoming their bag. This wasn't quite Dublin, but wasn't far off. At 15-all, and with a kickable penalty in front of the sticks, was Aaron Cruden inspired or guilty of madness when he tapped and took off?


His bravery, if it was indeed that, created the opportunity for the All Blacks to scrum five out and work Conrad Smith into the corner to win the game.


First take: New look England so close to upset
As it happened: ABs v England

On balance, it was probably a bit harsh on England that they took nothing on the night. They gave, unquestionably, all they had and it was plenty and on another night, with a bit of luck and bit of this and a bit of that ... maybe.

And the All Blacks know that. They know that had it not been for the explosive Jerome Kaino chopping a few Englishman in half and running over the top of plenty more, that victory may never have come.

Kaino's presence and impact on defence lifted those around him. By the second half, the ability of the All Black forwards to send England's ball runners reeling backwards became the defining feature.

England couldn't get go-forward and ere forced to kick and kick and kick. It's not feasible to win at Eden Park on the back of up and unders. That might cut it in the Six Nations, but out here, teams need to do a little more.

And, in truth, if England for all that they gave, play like that in test two, they might find they don't get so close.

The All Blacks played like a team that hadn't had a run together for seven months. Pass and catch was made to look rocket science for much of the game and the All Blacks couldn't get a defensive handle on England on the few occasions they did run.

They couldn't get a look in at the lineout, didn't get much out of the scrums and the pick and go was stopped dead in its tracks. To an extent, that much was always possible given England's physicality and presence.

The surprising bit was the All Blacks' sloppiness under the high ball - it was as if the clock had been wound back to 2009, the year they flapped and fiddled - and England's ability to generate width and look, arguably, the more dangerous and enterprising side.

Manu Tuilagi, as he did in 2012, found and made holes and Kyle Eastmond was dancing feet and trickery without being a defensive liability.

England were also smart in the way they took the sting out of the game. They pushed the boundaries with the time they took to assemble for scrums and especially lineouts. It would be exaggerating to say they were glacial - they were significantly slower and rugby bosses needed to take note in case this settles into habit ahead of the World Cup.

It was a hard enough business for both sides creating momentum without so much rhythm and life being sucked out like that. England were obviously happy to slow things down and not let the pace become frenetic. They wanted control, discipline and patience to be their weapons of choice and fair enough, too.

The faster the clip, the fewer the number of teams that can hang onto the All Blacks coat-tails. Best to pen them in, bottle them up and never let them go pop. It worked for 76 minutes until Smith wriggled free and the All Blacks got out of jail.

New Zealand 20 (C. Smith try; A. Cruden 5 pens)
England 15 (F. Burns 4 pens; D. Cipriani pen

All Blacks v England live blog
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