A world record equalled, a sublime first half of attacking rugby and a fine defensive second half - the All Blacks produced it all against England last night.
Their 36-13 third-test victory over England not only wrapped up a 3-0 series whitewash for the hosts in front of a sellout Waikato Stadium crowd of 25,800, but also equalled the world record of consecutive test wins - 17.
The second 40 minutes might not have matched the attacking dominance of the first half for the All Blacks, but their effectiveness in shutting down the England attack was just as much a psychological blow to the visitors, as these two international powerhouses jockey for pre-World Cup bragging rights.
The test was over by halftime - 29-6 to the All Blacks - as the difference in attacking aptitude between the two sides was like night and day.
While England's big forwards coughed up the ball under pressure on their rare visits to the New Zealand half, the All Blacks' backs had a field day.
Mixed with some good positional kicking, particularly from the cannon boot of fullback Ben Smith, the All Blacks had a mortgage on territory and grabbed the majority of lineout ball as a result.
From that launching pad, the combined play of all seven All Blacks backs had the English defence totally befuddled, as they mixed sublime skill with pace and power to fine effect.
Savea had two tries within the first eight minutes, firstly from the combined efforts of Aaron and Ben Smith, then from a Cruden break and cutout pass that the big left winger snapped up brilliantly on the bounce.
A rain shower threatened to slow the hosts momentum but only a forward pass from Ben Smith to Savea prevented the latter's hat-trick coming in the 14th minute and, after an exchange of penalty goals, England were hit hard by the harsh sin-binning of their big No 8 Billy Vunipola, shown a yellow card by French referee Jerome Garces for a head-high tackle on Cruden midway through the half. There were further breaks by hooker Dane Coles and debutant centre Malakai Fekitoa, whose strong straight running proved a handful for the England midfield defence where Kyle Eastmond was struggling.
The third and fourth tries were both scored by Aaron Smith in the 27th and 34th minutes as the quality of the All Blacks attack, whether in close from their forwards or further out in the backline, continued to take its toll on the English.
Unsurprisingly, Eastmond did not reappear after halftime, replaced by Luther Burrell, while local hero Liam Messam replaced comeback No 8 Kieran Read.
Immediately there was a statement from England out of the dressing room, Marland Yarde scoring a try off a ruck in just the second minute and the visitors again piggy-backed a penalty to go straight back on attack, but were denied by the All Blacks' defence.
From there normal service was resumed. The All Blacks surged onto attack from a Jerome Kaino turnover and the boot of Ma'a Nonu, and England were forced to make dozens of tackles, although to their credit the defence held in the face of tremendous fire.
With such a big All Blacks lead the substitutions continued to come early from both sides.
It was hard to tell which had more effect initially. Apart from one sparkling break by first-five Beauden Barrett, England got the benefit of a string of penalties to surge onto attack.
The penalties and free kicks kept coming, keeping England on attack, and when replacement All Blacks prop Wyatt Crockett was yellow carded the momentum of moved even further in favour of the visitors despite the lopsided scoreline but again the defence held.
Just to rub it in, Savea got his hat-trick after the final hooter thanks to individual brilliance from right winger Cory Jane.
New Zealand 36 (Julian Savea 3, Aaron Smith 2 tries; Aaron Cruden 3 conversions, penalty goal; Beauden Barrett conversion) England 13 (Marland Yarde try; Freddie Burns conversion, 2 penalty goals). Halftime 29-6 NZ.
- Sunday News
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