Rugby World Cup
Time for a new broom for All Blacks?
Canon Rugby In Focus: The manner of the All Blacks defeat is what will be hurting Kiwi fans and NZ Rugby as it looks to replace coaching great Steve Hansen, writes Jim Kayes.
It’s not the losing that will hurt, it’s the fact the All Blacks were never really competitive.
England were simply superb and there must be no quibbling with this result.
It was not a flukey win. There are no shades of controversy to it. There were no poor refereeing decisions - certainly not in the All Blacks' favour.
This was a shutout. A whitewash of the All Blacks.
England were magnificent in every aspect but especially on defence.
The old cliche says defence wins big tests and that was certainly the case in this World Cup semifinal.
England’s line was tested, but seldom bent and was never really even splintered - though it may have cracked Ian Foster’s hopes of replacing Steve Hansen as head coach of the All Blacks in the process.
It is a rare night of rugby when the All Blacks fire as few shots as they did in losing to England in Yokohama.
Credit for that has to go to England. They were a white wall of shoulders, starving the All Blacks of attacking chances and forcing them into mistakes or to kick the ball away.
Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga never even glistened let alone shone with the ball, as the forwards, who were so strong against Ireland a week earlier, were regularly driven back.
It is hard for even the best players to impress going backwards.
On attack, England drove through the heart of the All Blacks, sucking their defenders in and creating space out wide for them to attack.
No 8 Billy Vunipola was immense in an 80-minute performance that saw him carry the ball twice as often as his opposite Kieran Read.
Not far behind was his brother Mako and the rest of the pack. Or, in fact, the rest of the men in white.
It was, and this is meant purely as a compliment, an All Blacks performance by England.
They set the tone with their superb, V formation in response to the haka and were the better team from start to finish.
They were relentless in their ability to put pressure on the All Blacks, doing to them what New Zealand did to Ireland a week ago.
The All Blacks were forced to play going backwards, pinned in their own half - often their own 22, and pressured into errors and poor decisions.
The 19-7 score could have been vastly different in England’s favour.
The All Blacks try came from a rare England mistake and England had two tries rubbed out by the video referee.
The first, which would have been awarded to outstanding flanker Sam Underhill, was fair enough but halfback Ben Youngs probably deserved his.
Instead, a knock-on in a driving maul was somehow spotted and that try was deleted too.
It’s not often you can say this when the All Blacks lose, but the score flattered them.
So where does this defeat leave Hansen whose last game as coach will be to prepare his team for a game no one wants to play in - the tussle for third.
He deserves to be regarded as one of New Zealand’s greatest coaches. Of course the All Blacks wanted to win this World Cup, but Hansen has two titles, one each as head coach and assistant coach.
This was a magnificent test match that one team had to lose and that team was the All Blacks. That shouldn’t sully Hansen’s reputation.
That said, he was out-thought by England’s Eddie Jones, just as the All Blacks were out-played.
The greatest casualty from this defeat could be Foster.
Had the All Blacks won the World Cup his case to succeed Hansen would have been hard to argue against.
But there must now, surely, be a temptation to start afresh. Hansen has been involved in the All Blacks since 2004 and his influence, combined with Sir Graham Henry’s, has been all-consuming.
In every way, the All Blacks are Hansen’s team. That’s been good when they’ve won, but now is the chance to review that.
Will picking Foster be a continuation of Hansen’s mantra - and is a breath of fresh air needed?
Champion Crusaders coach Scott Robertson looms, for now, as the best of the alternative options.
It’s not that the All Blacks are broken. Far from it. But the manner of their loss to England, coming as it has after recent loses to Australia, South Africa and Ireland, shows not everything is right.
We can take a loss, especially to a team that plays as well as England did.
We have learnt how to cope with defeat even if it doesn’t sit comfortably on Kiwi shoulders.
It’s the not being competitive that irks.
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