Right from the get-go on Saturday night, the All Blacks played into England’s hands.
Less than a minute later, Manu Tuilagi was diving over next to the posts to shellshock the 70,000 fans packed into Yokohama Stadium as England took a 7-0 ascendency they would never give up.
This recipe would be repeated over and over as the All Blacks failed to adopt a kicking strategy around contested kicking, which left them high and dry of meaningful possession in the right areas of the field.
The second clearing kick by a retreating George Bridge gave England an attacking lineout 25-metres out. The long 55-metre driving kick he caught on the full from Owen Farrell on his own 6 may have gone dead if he’d left it. Instead, England launched another white wave.
They breached the All Blacks’ 22 four times in the first 10 minutes, and six times within the first quarter.
The All Blacks’ preference for lineouts over aerial challenges coming out of their exit zone cost them as their investment in jumping prowess never pulled in the steals that Hansen envisioned when he selected Scott Barrett at 6.
On attack, at the other end of the field, the kicking was just poor.
The All Blacks’ first pair of offensive lineouts from halfway ended with grubbers by Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga that were expertly read by Elliot Daly in the backfield and covered. Space was not there inviting a grubber, but they kicked anyway.
Mo’unga’s one luckily paid off giving the All Blacks their first attacking lineout on the edge of England’s 22, which after one phase Aaron Smith hoisted a box kick.
A box kick on the edge of England’s 22? Was this the All Blacks we were watching? Not even England would employ such a tactic; they have power rugby to play.
The kick was uncontested, resulting in a regulation mark for Jonny May. England quickly restarted the game with a quick tap and Farrell hammered the ball downfield towards halfway for a New Zealand net loss of 30-metres and a blown opportunity to attack and return serve after nearly 15-minutes of English onslaught.
To make matters worse, the next lineout was sacked and the ball stripped by Maro Itoje, turning the screws back on New Zealand as England smashed there way down the field over a wilting Kiwi pack for their 5th entry into the 22 with ball-in-hand.
At this point only one side was looking to play attacking rugby, it is sad to say, with only excellent last-ditch scrambling defence spoiling England’s work.
Again after a timely turnover, Aaron Smith smashes it into touch for another England lineout 30-metres out.
The All Blacks had zero contested kicks coming out of their end of the field in the first half unless you count one half-attempt from Sevu Reece on a Barrett midfield bomb.
Both sides had eight kicks inside their own 40 in the first half. England kept 63% in play while New Zealand kicked 75% into touch.
One team wanted the game to keep going and one didn’t. This is a bizarre strategy, as anyone who has studied England at all knows that they only open up the playbook once they get a lineout inside the opposition 40. Everything is else is designed to kick downfield methodically to earn a lineout, even if it takes 20-minutes to do so.
New Zealand continually gave them that platform instead of steering the game away from it. Stacking your forward pack with lineout options doesn’t mean you have to continually invite the opposition to throw.
England earned clean throws on their own ball and it was actually New Zealand who struggled. England caused fits for Codie Taylor, nabbing two steals and sacking the maul two times for four turnovers in the first half.
Credit to England’s coaching team, they had Read, Retallick, Barrett, and Whitelock jumping at ghosts and trying to contest with one-man lifts with a vast array of well-drilled plays.
Doubling down on the lineout and inviting England to play from there made this All Blacks’ game plan a tactical disaster, ending up heavily on the wrong side of the territory and possession stats.
The complete sea change in the second half was also too skewed in the other direction.
Playing from their own end led to three turnovers inside or on the edge of their own 22 within the first five minutes. England eventually put over three points to stretch the lead out to 13-0.
It was actually an unintentional kick kept in play that allowed the All Blacks back into the game.
After trying to play expansive phases inside their own 22, a popgun Mo’unga clearing kick that may have taken a deflection found Slade isolated by Savea on the kick return, who then won a piggyback penalty downfield that eventually led to the overthrow try.
Three points were shipped straight back after a Jordie Barrett error moments later, playing Wallaby rugby inside the 22 that would have made Michael Cheika proud.
The All Blacks were tactically outplayed on many levels but were still able to hang in the game with pure determination and guts. Unfortunately, smarts will end you if the other team is as tough and determined as you are.
On the day, England outsmarted an All Blacks side, proving to be more than their equal and their differing approaches to the kicking game played a big part in that.
Eddie Jones post-match press conference after beating New Zealand:
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