Forget the nonsense, New Zealand is still better than England

Voice of Reason

MARK REASON
Last updated 08:12 05/12/2012

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OPINION: England are not remotely as good a team as the All Blacks. They might be when they go 12 months unbeaten. Owen Farrell is not even a five compared to Dan Carter's 10. He might be when he has spent nearly 10 years teaching other teams how to play the game.

But you wouldn't know much of this from the hysterical reaction to Sunday's game. We live in a world of hyperbole. Suddenly England are world beaters and the All Blacks have an age crisis. It is all complete tosh.

After Sunday's victory Farrell junior said: "We don't think there is a gap at all between northern and southern hemisphere. Today we proved it."

It is a forgivable statement. It is the sort of thing that a 21-year-old should believe in, along with his own immortality and the senility of anyone over 40. But it won't do. Come back at the end of 2013 and say: "This year we proved it." Such things are tested over months, not days.

Sport at the top level is about consistency of performance. The All Blacks have it and the England team do not. If Stuart Lancaster's men start rolling the opposition in the Six Nations, star in a Lions victory in Australia and boss next November's internationals, then Farrell can talk about equality between the hemispheres.

Ricky Ponting will tell you about consistency of performance. It is why he is giving up the game of cricket. Ponting can still score the odd big hundred but can no longer do it week in, week out.

It is risible when New Zealand cricket says that its batsmen have proved they can do it at the top level each time they score a century. Above any other game, cricket is about consistency, it is about averages, it is not about one- off tons. A batsman proves he can do it at the top level when, like Michael Clarke or Hashim Amla, he keeps getting big scores at the top level of the game.

The All Blacks are still light years ahead of England because they have proved, month in and month out, that they can do it at the top level.

Sunday's match was startling because Kieran Read and Conrad Smith had a communication breakdown in defence. The match was startling because Carter missed a couple of crucial and relatively easy kicks at goal. These are very rare events, like England beating New Zealand.

Yet Carter's botched goal kicks and one missed tackle have led everyone to say that the All Blacks' first five was appalling. Fair enough. By his own very high standards he was. But there was a beautiful cross kick in the first half that would have created a try but for a very marginal offside call. There was some vital defence, a break over the gain line and a terrific long pass that helped set up a score.

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But these moments have gone unacknowledged because Carter has set such very high standards. Farrell didn't completely outplay Carter, as has been suggested. The England No 10 missed touch with an early penalty, hurried away a kick that was returned for a score and slipped off the odd tackle. But he was on the winning team and therefore he was portrayed as a genius.

Steve Hansen probably got it right when he said: "Though it hurts like hell at the moment it won't do us any harm. It will stop people telling us we're the greatest team ever and all that crap. We'll get down to being an All Black team that worked hard."

The All Blacks said many sensible and gracious things after the match, another difference between the hemispheres perhaps. But Hansen's point about the greatest team was spot on. This New Zealand team is not even better than the All Blacks team of 12 months ago for two simple reasons: Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino. England would not have bullied those two men and Tom Wood would not have been man of the match.

They may be IRB team of the year, but New Zealand have a long, long way to go before they are even close to being historical world beaters. Aaron Smith needs to achieve a far greater level of consistency. When the men in front of him struggle, so does Smith. At the moment it ranks him light years behind Will Genia.

The front five is lightweight. I have long suspected that the South Africa front five of 2007 or the England front five of 2003 would have smashed them. As was indicated on Sunday, Brodie Retallick still has some growing up to do, Sam Whitelock is no more than a decent international player and the front row is average.

But that's all right, the All Blacks are still a much better team than England. For one thing, New Zealand knows who its best players are. The England team that won on Sunday had seven changes from the team that lost to Australia. That is another reason for their inconsistency. England's coaching staff is inexperienced and makes too many mistakes.

On Sunday, England's management got it right for a change. They picked something close to their best team (1, 6, 8, 9 and 10 are really quite important positions to get right in that respect) and they altered their defensive system from the malfunctioning rugby league outside press that had been a shambles against the Aussies.

But all of that doesn't make England world beaters. That title still belongs to the All Blacks. It has all year.

Mark Reason is a sportswriter formerly with the Times of London and Daily Telegraph in Britain. He now lives in Wairarapa.

- Taranaki Daily News

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