All Blacks loss a sour way to end the season

LIAM NAPIER AT TWICKENHAM
Last updated 05:47 02/12/2012

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OPINION: What an upset. What a sour way to end the season.

Tomorrow's flight home just got longer for the All Blacks after a timid display ruined the European tour, tainted their season and handed Steve Hansen his first loss as head coach.

After this record 38-21 defeat, the All Blacks' first at Twickenham for a decade, there will be nagging frustration hanging over the summer holidays. 

The Christmas ham might taste a little off.

Maybe the fallout and claims of thuggery after Andrew Hore's incident last week got to Hansen's men. There was a distinct lack of physicality and aggression in the collisions. They were bullied at the breakdown.

Apart from a three-minute second-half burst, where Julian Savea and Kieran Read scored, and a late flurry, the All Blacks were on the back foot - make that pinned up against the wall by a raw and inexperienced English side. It was astonishing to watch.

This test resembled a third former turning the tables on the head prefect.

Stuart Lancaster's starting side boasted just 206 caps and had an average age of a tick over 24. They were up against an All Blacks team with 787 caps.

Some had labelled them the best ever after going 20 matches undefeated since last year's World Cup.

Steeled by close losses to the Wallabies and Springboks, youth and enthusiasm sparked the English. They did not fear this All Blacks team. Not one bit.

The youngest members of Lancaster's team led the charge. Hooker Tom Young's and his front-row were powerful. Centre Manu Tuilagi got the better of Conrad Smith, a feat very rarely achieved. And 21-year-old first-five Owen Farrell did not put a foot wrong, slotting 18 points.

As their collective confidence grew so, too, did the sweeping chorus of swing low sweet chariot.

At the end of a long season, this being their 14th test, the All Blacks seemed out on their feet.

The sickness which stuck down almost the entire squad during the last two weeks might have had an affect, but don't expect any excuses to flow from Hansen and Richie McCaw.

They simply weren't up to it today. They were caught on the hop, as it were.

Now they have plenty of time to ponder their one major blimp of 2012.

Make no mistake, the Poms won't let you forget this history making occasion.

And, as much as it pains to say, their effort today deserves some time in the sun.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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