Reason: All Black brains beat English brawn

17:40, Jun 18 2014
Ben Smith
MAN OF THE HOUR: Ben Smith makes his crucial tackle on Manu Tuilagi in Dunedin.

I Think Therefore I Play.

The title of Andrea Pirlo's book is a perfect description of why the All Blacks beat England in the second test. The All Blacks did not have the better chances. They did not win the forward battle. They did not have a victorious strategy. But the All Blacks had the brains.

In this rugby mad country it is possible that some of you may imagine that Pirlo is a Roman philosopher. Almost correct. Pirlo, nicknamed Pirlinho in Brazil, is an Italian football international. In their opening match of the football World Cup the 35-year-old passed England to death, cruelly exposing their left flank.

Cesare Prandelli, Italy's coach, said: "We do not have the players who are good at the one-on-one like England do, so we made the most of our own characteristics, namely the technical quality in short passing. Andrea Pirlo is a player who brings quality to every corner of the pitch. He has such experience that he can control each zone of the field."

Italy could not match England's pace, but they outthought them. This All Blacks side does not possess England's relentless physical power. They have Jerome Kaino, Ma'a Nonu and Julian Savea, but England have bully boys, or "white orcs on steroids" as Michael Laws once called them, all across the pitch. Yet the All Blacks outthought them.

In that crucial moment when Manu Tuilagi broke clear England did everything wrong. Tuilagi looked at first like he might come infield, but then he hugged the touchline, making the job of the covering tackler so much easier. If Tuilagi had changed his angle, then he would have given his support runner options and set up the hand-off.


Mike Brown's support line was not good given what Tuilagi was up to. As well as Brown has been playing over the previous 12 months, you wonder if his previous unhappy experience in this part of the world has made New Zealand a difficult place to tour. He looks diffident.

In contrast, both the covering All Blacks did a superb job. Ben Smith has been rightly praised for his tackle and steal, but Cory Jane, who made the initial error, bust a gut to get back and cover Brown. And when the turnover came there were eight All Blacks in the frame and two England players. They recognised the moment.

Some All Blacks had a poor game, but even through their errors they kept thinking clearly. It is hard to keep your vision through a mist of frustration, but Jane, Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden (who was not particularly poor and made a killer tackle on England's hooker 4 metres from the line) each made at least one decisive contribution.

Compare Smith to Danny Care. Neither half back had a good game. But Care did nothing to redeem himself. He dropped balls when England were attacking, he went to the short side when England had a massive overlap to the right, leaving Brown and Billy Twelvetrees to throw up their arms in frustration, and he kicked two balls out on the full. Actually one of those kicks was wrongly ruled, but Care had no plea. There was a huge space behind the All Blacks. The ball should have been nowhere near the touchline.

Aaron Smith also made a clutch of mistakes, but when the moment came, he took it. A poor Care box kick was not well followed by England and Smith took advantage of them down the short side. The All Blacks then scored on the other side of the pitch, Brown and Care both slow to spot the extra numbers and cover across.

In addition to his cover on Brown, Jane spotted a mismatch in midfield and took advantage of Geoff Parling to create the overlap for Nonu's try. The one chance that Cruden had, he took, making the break for Ben Smith's try.

In comparison England were clueless. Stuart Lancaster said, "It's the decision-making at the highest level we need to look at, not least when to hold on to the ball and create the next phase."

Tom Wood, the England flanker, said: "I'm getting fed up of having to explain it away. A lot of the credit goes to them for being so dynamic but a lot of the blame lies with us. When you haven't had the ball for 10 to 15 minutes and then you force passes, it's criminal. You just need to get your hands on it, build some pressure and make them defend for a while. Maybe we need to be more pragmatic, put the ball in behind them and go back to our driving game and set-piece game that had worked so well for us."

You can understand the frustration. In those crucial moments just after half-time Luther Burrell had a three-on-two and failed to put away Marland Yarde on the switch. And as for Billy Twelvetrees, despite his nickname of 36, the man can't add up on a rugby pitch.

His error count was off the scale. He kicked the ball dead when England were a man short. He passed to the opposition, gave away a daft penalty, knocked on, ran into his own man and kept forcing the ball in contact. One such moment of stupidity led to that crucial All Blacks opening try. Unfortunately Twelvetrees has form. He was as bad against Australia in November.

When England won the World Cup in 2003 they had Will Greenwood in midfield. His dad was a coach. He grew up talking and thinking rugby. In short he could have been an All Black. He thinks therefore he plays.