England provide the spark test rugby needed

05:04, Dec 04 2012
Manu Tuilagi
RUNNING GAME: Manu Tuilagi runs in for a try against the All Blacks.

Bravo England. In 80 exhilarating moments, the men in white breathed new life into international rugby. 

The real test now is whether they can keep it up. For the sake of the game, let's hope they can and that other countries take a leaf out of their book.

Tuning into talkback radio yesterday was an exercise in understanding why the rest of the rugby world so often look at New Zealand rugby fans with antipathy.

Praise for England was scant. It couldn't possibly be that the home side outplayed New Zealand, that they brought a greater passion and execution than the All Blacks.

New Zealand's dominance of international rugby has been overstated this year.

Steve Hansen's men have been impressive, and have definitely lifted a notch from winning the World Cup. That is a commendable feat. But their dominance has been embellished by the appalling standards of their opposition this year and disregards just how poor all other international rugby teams have been in 2012. Almost every country seems to have gone backwards.

While New Zealanders may have revelled in the moments of brilliance from Richie McCaw's men, the truth is that for the neutral fan the international rugby season has been a barren desert devoid of inspiration, innovation and skill.

If you had arrived from Mars and were considering the merits of rugby league, AFL, football, gridiron or Gaelic football, rugby union would have run a distant last just in terms of the alien even understanding
the game, let alone forming an appreciation for how adeptly it can be played.

But then along came England.

I remember an old coach once telling me that great teams are most vulnerable against opposition that play the same style of game as them.

I was struck by that midway through the second half when England knuckled down after the All Blacks had fought back from 0-15 down to trail by just a single point.

Instead of retreating into a negative game plan like every other team the All Blacks have played this year, England did a New Zealand and stayed positive. 

They attacked and chanced their arm. The rewards were spectacular and offered a way forward for the rest of the rugby world when it comes to tactics against the top ranked team in the game.

For close to two decades now, England has been urged to shed its conservative forward-orientated game and develop a true 15-man approach. For all of that time, its coaches and captains have resolutely refused to embrace real rugby.

That changed last weekend.

England had a go - and look at the reward.

Put aside your loyalty, our inclination towards jingoism. What sort of rugby do we really want to see? That was a rattling good test match. Good ball movement from both teams, great skill, pulsating rugby....there's been too little of it this year.

Give us more tests like that and chances are we will get interested in test rugby once again.

The real test of England now is whether it has the courage to go on with what it has begun.

In the upcoming Six Nations tournament, will we see the same vision, the same willingness to run the ball, to play true 15-man rugby? Or was this a one-off, a rare almost out-of-body performance by the English that will soon be replaced by the insipid and turgid approach we normally associate with them?

We should not fear their seemingly new-found elan. This test was one bridge too far for the All Blacks.

The tough workload this season, the virus that sapped the team of vital energy just two days before the game, the tackle Dan Carter uncharacteristically missed on Manu Tuilagi, Conrad Smith making a defensive misjudgment you'll never see from him again, Kieran Read throwing an intercept pass...the Poms had just about everything go their way.

The All Blacks need not fear England - but they certainly should respect them...something that seemed to be have lapsed ahead of the Twickenham upset.

And true fans of the game should tip their hats to Stuart Lancaster's men for at last playing rugby - and learning it can beat the world champions.

I don't mind seeing the All Blacks lose when the team that has vanquished them has played the game the way William Webb Ellis intended.

As for the next England v All Blacks match, suddenly I can't wait for it.