The scoreboard read as if the game was played on the slimmest of margins, but in truth the All Blacks were clearly the better side on this day. Late tries for Mike Brown and Chris Ashton after New Zealand had slipped into cruise control were no more than consolation scores. Steve Hansen demanded that his men raise their game, and they didn’t fail in that regard, with nearly everyone enjoying in improved performance from the week before.
Once exception might be captain Richie McCaw, who looked a little behind the pace for once. His vital missed tackle on Marland Yarde was part of a horror opening for New Zealand, as England charged out to a 10 point lead in nearly as many minutes. McCaw found his rhythm a bit later but by his lofty standards it was well below a vintage performance.
One key area targeted by Hansen was the second row, and his towering duo enjoyed a superb return to form. Brodie Retallick dominated the lineout on New Zealand ball while Sam Whitelock disrupted the English. Both smashed into rucks with renewed vigour and were absolutely key to providing quick ball for Aaron Smith.
Speaking of Smiths, namesakes Conrad and especially Ben were excellent again, with the fullback earning a well deserved man-of-the-match accolade. His try-saving tackle and turnover on Manu Tuilagi was out of the top drawer, and he looked especially pleased to be running freely from his preferred no15 jersey.
As for Tuilagi, the experiment of playing him on the wing did not go over well. As some predicted he was slow on the turn, struggled with positioning, and generally just didn’t get into the game as much as one would have liked. Surely a return to the midfield is back on the cards, though it forces Stuart Lancaster to choose between he and Luther Burrell. While the Northampton man is the better footballer of the two, there’s no denying the power and sheer presence of Tuilagi.
If Smith’s tackle on Tuilagi was the turning point, then Brown was chief culprit in the act. It’s anyone’s guess what he was trying to do but his support line was shockingly inaccurate and well behind the pace. By anyone’s standards he had a poor game, and he was joined in his inadequacy by Danny Care. Most fans gave a quiet cheer when they saw his name on the team sheet before the match. Afterwards they would have been cursing as he had one of his most disappointing outings in an English shirt, making numerous unforced errors and generally looking completely out of sorts.
There will be changes for England, probably several, heading into the final match. With the series lost players such as Dylan Hartley and Billy Vunipola will surely come back into the side, and though the two losses are disappointing there is still a real chance to take a scalp before they head home. Similarly the All Blacks will be dead-set on the sweep, with changes unlikely except for those enforced. Roll on Hamilton for what should be a fine conclusion to an important tour.
NEW ZEALAND 28 vs 27 ENGLAND
Saturday, June 14, 07:35 GMT, Dunedin
02 mins – O. Farrell pen 0-3
07 mins – M. Yarde try 0-8
08 mins – M. Yarde con 0-10
12 mins – A. Cruden pen 3-10
40 mins – A. Cruden pen 6-10
43 mins – B. Smith try 11-10
44 mins – A. Cruden con 13-10
46 mins – O. Farrell pen 13-13
49 mins – J. Savea try 18-13
59 mins – B. Barrett pen 21-13
64 mins – M. Nonu try 26-13
65 mins – B. Barrett con 28-13
71 mins – M. Brown try 28-18
71 mins – O. Farrell con 28-20
80 mins – C. Ashton try 28-25
80 mins – O. Farrell con 28-27
58 mins – O. Farrell yellow (professional foul)
B. Smith; C. Jane, C. Smith, M. Nonu, J. Savea; A. Cruden (B. Barrett 51), A. Smith (T.J. Perenara 76); T. Woodcock (W. Crockett 66), D. Coles (K. Mealamu 60), O. Franks (C. Faumuina 66); B. Retallick (P. Tu’ipulotu 76), S. Whitelock; L. Messam (V. Vito 66), R. McCaw (capt.), J. Kaino.
M. Brown; M. Tuilagi, L. Burrell, B. Twelvetrees, M. Yarde; O. Farrell, D. Care (B. Youngs 72); J. Marler (M. Mullan 72), R. Webber (D. Hartley 47), D. Wilson (K. Brookes 72); J. Launchbury (C. Lawes 57), G. Parling; T. Wood, C. Robshaw (capt.), B. Morgan (B. Vunipola 57).
Referee: J. Peyper (SARU)
Assistants: N. Owens (WRU) & J. Garces (FFR)
TMO: G. Ayoub (ARU)