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The 'bend us' Ian Foster explanation for late All Blacks collapse

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Ian Foster has offered up an explanation for the extraordinary late-game Twickenham collapse that resulted in his All Blacks stunningly surrendering a 25-6 lead on 72 minutes to only draw with England. New Zealand were coasting to victory having dominated for much of the Autumn Nations Series encounter in London, and Jordie Barrett’s 71st-minute drop goal appeared to have wrapped up what would have been a seventh victory in a row for the tourists.

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However, from the restart following Barrett’s three-point kick, England suddenly threw caution to the wind and attacked in a fashion they hadn’t previously done. The pressure quickly resulted in a yellow card for Beauden Barrett and a try for sub Will Stuart in the same play – but with Marcus Smith missing the conversion, the hosts were still 11-25 down and the try looked to be nothing more than a consolation.

That dramatically wasn’t the case, though, as England went on to exploit their numerical advantage, scoring two more tries after twice exposing the All Blacks down the right-hand side. It left New Zealand having to kick a restart with the clock finally striking 80 minutes and they would have been relieved to see Smith kick the ball into the stands to end the game rather than launch another England attack from the home team’s 22.

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The denouement left Foster puzzled. He said if it was the All Blacks in possession deep into their own territory, he would like to think they would have launched an attack to try and win the game. However, that hypothetical situation was a sidebar to the main post-game New Zealand talking point – what the flip has gone so wrong for them to surrender a 19-point lead coming down the finishing stretch?

“We will probably have two press conferences, one for the first 70 minutes and another for the next ten,” quipped Foster, trying to make sense of what happened when England began throwing the ball around and their passes started to stick. “It was a game of drama and to come away with a 25-all draw is something we are pretty disappointed with. That first 70, to me we really played the sort of rugby we want to get to.

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“We had a great tour and we were pretty determined to come to this game against an England team that was very physical against us three years ago and we struggled to control the game against them. I thought tonight we did that really well and put ourselves into a position where we should have been a little bit better, but credit to England for the way they came back.

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“That card (to Barrett) sort of galvanised them and their performance in the last ten is worthy of a lot of credit. 25-all to finish the year, whilst it is frustrating there were large parts of that performance I was particularly proud of and it shows a lot of the progress we made in the second half of the year.”

Explain the collapse, though. Specifically what happened? “We went down one clearly and we will probably have to pull it apart and have a look, but clearly they started to bend us,” he offered. “Once we went down to 14 they went wide-wide and we weren’t able to stop them.

“It’s probably the type of ball that they were trying to get from the start of the game and couldn’t quite get it, but they certainly got it at the end. It is a good growth point for us. We need to make sure we nail that and again. It’s disappointing but they did what they had to do well and we couldn’t stop them in that last part.

“At the end of the day, it is a draw. We played some great rugby and in our mind, we should have walked away with a win and we didn’t get it in that last ten. Upon reflection you can tell from us we are a little bit flat, but I love the way we played for large parts of that game and showed some of the things that we have been making good gains in.

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“We are moving well, but it shows we’re not quite there yet and in some ways, it is not a bad spot to be ten months out (for the World Cup).”

Skipper Sam Whitelock added: “To go from a few points up to all of a sudden start leaking was not nice. The boys were definitely trying out there and you can never fault the effort… but as Ian said, we have got to pull it apart and look at why that happened and come up with a few solutions because we didn’t out there and that is why we came out with a 25-all draw.”

Back to Foster, should the All Blacks have been better in winding down the clock in the final few minutes to better protect the 25-18 lead they were holding? “I don’t think you can wind the clock down for two minutes nowadays, I think the breakdown is too heavily officiated.

“They are looking hard at that, people sealing off and if we tried to seal off the game for too long I think you are going to concede a penalty in that space. I thought we actually did all that right. Ardie (Savea) called for that little wee kick from TJ (Perenara) and then he realised by the time TJ kicked it he was a metre in front so we lost a chaser off that. That was one of the exits I mentioned before that we weren’t as clinical as we needed to be but no, I am happy with the decisions.”

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