England and New Zealand met at a rainy Twickenham on Saturday afternoon in one of, if not the most anticipated rugby fixture of the last few years, and it certainly delivered on all of the promise.
The All Blacks retained the Hillary Shield in a tight, compelling 16-15 victory over England, but it was an 80-minute performance that offered plenty of promise for the hosts, who can count themselves unlucky to be on the losing side, having dominated vast swathes of the game.
As ever, though, New Zealand’s composure and clinical edge shone through at the right times and frustration will be the overriding emotion that England are left with.
We have run the rule over the 23 performers and rated each of their efforts.
- Elliot Daly – 6
The full-back looked sharper in the air and covering across the back field than he did versus the Springboks but did have one knock-on a high ball, in admittedly challenging conditions. Didn’t have too much opportunity to affect the game on the counter-attack or in the back line, given the territorial approach both teams took to the contest.
- Chris Ashton – 7
He set English pulses racing with his early try and was industrious and reliable in both defence and the aerial battle throughout the game. Chances to influence play as an attacking force were few and far between after his opening score of the game.
- Henry Slade – 7
The game seemed to slow down for Slade when he got his hands on the ball. He danced his way through All Black pressure multiple times, distributed accurately and brought his kicking game to bear to good effect in the wider channels.
- Ben Te’o – 6
The centre definitely looked to benefit from having a bit more rugby under his belt this week and looked more mobile. His vertical defence shooting out of the line was physically unforgiving on New Zealand, but still looked a bit flat-footed when defending horizontally. Noticeably quiet in attack.
- Jonny May – 7
Constantly harassed New Zealand with his kick chase, putting the All Black receivers under pressure and forcing errors. Like Ashton and Daly, the wing had few chances to have a more direct attacking influence on the game.
- Owen Farrell – 7
Started very strongly, orchestrating the England back line, knocking over a drop goal and creating a turnover by ripping the ball out of contact from Ardie Savea. A few errors crept in as the game went on, including kicking out on the full after New Zealand’s first try and a defensive mis-read on that Damian McKenzie try. Redeemed himself later by making a try-saving tackle on the New Zealand full-back, as well as thundering hit on Kieran Read.
- Ben Youngs – 8
Right from the miss-pass for Ashton’s try in the opening two minutes, Youngs continued his high level of play from the game against South Africa a week before. Aside from one over-kicked box-kick, Youngs’ game with the boot was superb, allowing English chasers to contest and drawing the New Zealand back three just outside of their 22. Manipulated space, too, shaping up to box-kick before unleashing Farrell and the back line against a defence not set for it.
- Ben Moon – 8
The Exeter prop backed up his impressive performance off the bench from a week before, stabilising the English scrum against a powerful All Blacks unit. Kept his shape and managed to stay square in the early scrums, before going on the offensive as the game went on.
- Dylan Hartley – 8
One of Hartley’s better performances in an England jersey, providing quickly hooked ball at the scrum and efficiently and physically manning the fringes against New Zealand carriers. He also nailed all four of his lineout throws before being replaced at half time.
- Kyle Sinckler – 8
Brought plenty of positives as a ball-carrier and tackler, dominating the gain-line in the loose. He was under pressure at the first scrum of the game and was penalised for pulling down on the second, but grew into the set-piece after that and created a strong tandem with Moon. A knock-on a few metres out from the New Zealand try line in the second half marred an otherwise strong showing.
- Maro Itoje – 7
Ruled the skies in the first half, cleanly delivering ball on all his targets by Hartley, but had two of his four targets in the second half by Jamie George stolen. His line-speed put New Zealand under real pressure, particularly in the first half, as well as being a safe pair of hands on the high balls, which New Zealand frequently went to.
- George Kruis – 8
A really solid execution of basics from Kruis, whose contest of the New Zealand lineout denied them their usual efficiency. Defensively, he put the pressure on around the fringes, harassing Aaron Smith, and was a nuisance in the maul.
- Brad Shields – 7
The New Zealand-born flanker is growing into the England jersey and stood out with the accuracy of his tackling and his work at the contact area. Made multiple tackles on his former teammate Beauden Barrett as the second wave of England’s kick chase, with Barrett usually managing to evade the first one or two men chasing.
- Sam Underhill – 8
A really energetic performance from the openside, whose incisive running lines brought plenty of gains for England. He was also effective as a first-up tackler on the kick chase and his low tackles in the defensive line overpowered a number of powerful Kiwi carriers.
- Mark Wilson – 6
They were tough conditions at Twickenham for Wilson to emulate his standout performance of a week prior and he struggled on a couple of occasions fielding the high ball, although both were well contested by New Zealand. He did make a number of powerful tackles on the gain-line, helping England dominate the early possession and territory arm wrestle.
- Jamie George – 4
The Saracens hooker only successfully connected on five of his 10 throws and England lost all momentum at the set-piece after having prospered there in the first half. Picked up a penalty for a dummy throw, too.
- Alec Hepburn – 6
Looked better coming off the bench than he did starting against South Africa and didn’t have the torrid time in the scrum of a week previous.
- Harry Williams – 6
Kept square in the scrum and offered an outlet as a carrier.
- Charlie Ewels – 6
Took one lineout well, with the set-piece in disarray, and provided some punch as a one-out carrier after coming on.
- Courtney Lawes – 6
The Northampton man enjoyed a fine first half cameo when Shields was off for a HIA, disrupting New Zealand’s lineout, putting on pressure with his line-speed and making a number of dominant tackles. Blotted his copybook with a loose offload and the game on the line with less than two minutes to play.
- Danny Care – 7
The scrum-half brought a nice injection of tempo and had an eye for space, with his replacement of Youngs reminiscent of the combination the pair provided in Eddie Jones’ first season in charge.
- George Ford – n/a
No opportunity to influence the game having come on in the last few minutes.
- Jack Nowell – 6
Kept up the industrious work of the starting wings with his kick chase after entering the fray, but little else to do in the dying minutes.
Watch: The second part of our interview with former All Blacks lock Ali Williams.
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