With England set to host the All Blacks at Twickenham for the first time in over four years this weekend, we revisit their most famous victory over the world number one and a memorable ten minutes from Manu Tuilagi.
Almost six years ago Stuart Lancaster and his England side proudly stamped a black mark on an otherwise perfect All Blacks campaign.
All Black fans will rue the 2012 Autumn clash with England, where a streak of 19 wins – with an away draw against Australia in between – was snapped as England dished out a record 38 points, winning by a record margin of 17, their biggest win over the All Blacks since 1936.
England fans are used to a long time between drinks when it comes to celebrating victory over the All Blacks at home. That 2012 victory was their first over the All Blacks in England for close to a decade, and they haven’t been able to topple the world number one in their five meetings since.
So what happened in 2012?
To set the scene, the All Blacks came into the match against England with an unbeaten record on the year and had just dismantled Scotland, Italy and Wales by a collective margin of 126-42. Meanwhile, England had just suffered two close home losses; a 20-14 defeat at the hands of the Wallabies and a tryless 16-15 loss against the Springboks in consecutive weeks.
Few favoured the English heading into the final fixture of the year as All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen trotted out what he called ‘his best possible team’, but explosive centre Manu Tuilagi, captain Chris Robshaw and a 20-year-old Owen Farrell were set on defying the odds.
A smirk from Tuilagi after a powerful rendition of Kapa O Pango from the All Blacks flared tensions early as England came out firing right from kickoff at Twickenham.
England were hungry and set the tone defensively, eventually holding the All Blacks to just 3.6 metres per carry as regular metre-eaters like Ma’a Nonu were constantly trapped behind the gainline.
All Blacks first-five eighth Dan Carter had the first chance at points nearly 15 minutes into the match with a penalty in front from almost 40 metres back. Carter was unable to open the scoring, but his opposite Farrell wouldn’t make the same mistake when presented with his own opportunity.
Farrell’s first effort off the tee – a tough 25th minute penalty – finally broke an intense deadlock.
The young playmaker would continue to tack on points as he punished the All Blacks for a lack of discipline inside their own half and guided England to a 15-0 lead after another penalty, a drop-goal and penalties on either side of halftime.
While the All Blacks ultimately ‘won’ the penalty count after conceding 13 penalties – one less than their opponents – it was the areas in which they gave them away that allowed England to take the early advantage.
In true All Black fashion Steve Hansen’s men punished England at the first hint of complacency. Two quick tries to Julian Savea and Kieran Read saw a 15 point lead whittled down to one with just over 30 minutes to play. The wall of white that had contained the All Blacks for close to an hour was finally starting to crack.
Enter, Manu Tuilagi – a young, game-changing centre at the peak of his powers.
After the English attack had slogged away and earned their penalties, only to have 50 minutes of grinding erased in five minutes by the All Blacks, Tuilagi took matters into his own hands.
The powerful midfielder – just 21 years old at the time – had hinted at a breakthrough with strong carries early in the match, and turned the game on its head completely with arguably the best ten minutes of his career.
With pressure mounting and tensions rising, England needed to score next after the swift All Black comeback. A bad defensive read from All Blacks centre Conrad Smith and a perfect delivery from Farrell opened the door for centre Brad Barritt to stroll through and break the defensive line. Streaking down the left wing, Barritt found Tuilagi outside him, who drew two men and flicked an offload back inside for England’s first try.
Just minutes later, Tuilagi was in on the action again. Used as a midfield battering ram from the outset, Tuilagi received the ball after a lineout and took on the line to beat Carter, Richie McCaw and Aaron Smith before shifting the ball to winger Chris Ashton who extended England’s lead back out to 11 after galloping away and scoring with a signature swan dive.
Tuilagi essentially sealed a famous victory in the 61st minute when he picked off a Kieran Read offload, turned upfield and won the 55 metre race to score a decisive try and extend the lead to an eventually insurmountable three scores.
The Leicester back finished as the game’s standout performer. He notched 96 metres with ball in hand, made three clean breaks and beat three defenders on his way to a man of the match effort.
Tuilagi and midfield partner Barritt combined for 20 tackles with a pair of misses between them as part of a staunch English defence that made 118 tackles with 86% accuracy.
A struggle to stay on the field – namely pectoral, knee and groins problems – has seen the potential-packed Tuilagi notch just 26 Test caps after his 2011 debut. He has failed to feature in an England shirt since March 2016, but the 27-year-old has the chance to repeat history after being named in Eddie Jones’ 25-man squad to take on the All Blacks this weekend.
English fans will be hoping to see that same smirk should he face the haka on Saturday afternoon, eagerly waiting for his game-breaking ability to turn the tables once again.
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