New Zealand did not so much bounce back from their loss against Australia as burp.

In what was shaping as a nasty case of rugby reflux, New Zealand established a handy lead before letting England back in the game.

If Shontayne Hape had scored in the corner rather than been thwarted by a desperation Isaia Toeava tackle with six minutes to go, you would have backed the fast-finishing England to run over the top, particularly given that the All Blacks played the final nine minutes with 14 men following the sinbinning of Jerome Kaino for repeated infringements at the breakdown.


It all looked so different in the first half hour when a Sonny Bill Williams and Hosea Gear inspired backline threatened to shred England apart.

Gear always looked threatening and finished expertly in the corner for the All Blacks' first, which came from a Williams break and offload.

When Kieran Read scored from a neatly worked scrum move, also involving Gear, it looked like game over.

Not so fast.

The loss to Australia last weekend in Hong Kong might have altered the singular goal of the tour - to go through the year unbeaten - but it did not diminish the prospects of a third grand slam in six years and a fourth overall.

Like any sports team with access to the book of cliches, the All Blacks would refuse to look any further ahead than "one game at a time", but privately they would acknowledge that England, revitalised after a win in Sydney during the winter, was the greatest impediment to a grand slam.

Even when outclassed, England usually manage to keep it uncomfortably close at their headquarters and, despite establishing that 14-0 lead, New Zealand never managed to lose England from their rearview mirrors.

England's persistence and resistance had a quivering effect on the All Blacks, who strung together their worst half hour of rugby between minutes 30 and 60, even accounting for the collapse in Hong Kong.

Moves broke down, balls went to ground, Joe Rokocoko got a case of the yips and the tighthead side of the scrum started to buckle under pressure from Andy Sheridan.

It's not going too far to say that if England had some constructive to go with the destructive they might have pinched this but New Zealand stayed strong, even in Kaino's absence.

Time to take a deep breath and digest this piecemeal performance before Scotland at Murrayfield.


New Zealand (Hosea Gear, Kieran Read tries; Dan Carter 4 pen 2 con), England (Dylan Hartley try; Toby Flood 3 pen con). Halftime: 17-3.