Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Front rowers prop up Eden Park record

Owen Franks is making sure England's Manu Tuilagi can't get away. Photo / Getty Images
Owen Franks is making sure England's Manu Tuilagi can't get away. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks found themselves in a big hole in this test, one which they climbed out of with only three minutes remaining.

What helped spark them wasn't a break — they were rare things indeed from the perspective of the home side — but a tackle.

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Joe Launchbury found himself with the ball in front of his posts, looked up and saw front rowers Dane Coles and Owen Franks. The Englishman went backwards in a hurry and was penalised for not releasing. The three points were extremely valuable, but so was the act as a statement of intent.

Up until that point, the All Blacks just couldn't get into gear. The visitors did well in tying up and slowing down — the pace suited them.

Aaron Smith stepped like a nervous pony in breaks of play such was his eagerness to get things going.

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What Coles and Franks did was put down a marker in a first half which drifted.

It appeared as if the All Blacks would have to wait until the second-half entry of Beauden Barrett and Malakai Fekitoa for their spark. Instead, Coles and Franks decided to light the fire themselves.

Aaron Cruden had a challenging night in what was only his third outing since his long lay-off with a broken thumb. He wouldn't have been pleased with his option to lob a wonky pass when backing up the break-out runs of Israel Dagg and Ma'a Nonu, and nor would Richie McCaw, who was right on his shoulder offering assistance.

That sharp top-end speed which allows him to wriggle through gaps isn't quite there yet, and with the All Blacks unable to call on the explosiveness of Julian Savea, they had to work out how to get around, rather than through, what was always going to be a solid white wall of defence.

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McCaw's thoughts as Cruden took a quick penalty tap instead of a shot at goal as the minutes ticked by would have been interesting, too.

It was a courageous call by the little Chiefs playmaker when a penalty would have carried the All Blacks clear. The quick tap when the opposition are assuming a kick will be taken is a trick his franchise uses, but rarely the All Blacks in such a high-pressure test.

What should have been England's defining moment occurred as the match approached the final quarter when they turned the potential weakness of a scrum near their line into a launching pad as Ben Morgan shot off, steamrolling Aaron Smith out of the way.

Instead of scoring — and second-five Kyle Eastwood found himself in a lot of space only to send a poor pass to Johnny May — the All Blacks were allowed to re-group.

England didn't take their one big chance, but the All Blacks did, and that, much to the relief, no doubt, of Cruden and his team-mates, was that.

- Herald on Sunday

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