What a day! Very few had high expectations of an England win on Saturday and certainly no-one could have dreamt of such a dominant performance. You have probably read plenty of articles about the game but my own observations about the weekend are below.
It started on Friday night with a social function at Lancaster House on the Mall where I had a long chat with one of the New Zealand board members. He, like most Kiwis, underplayed his team’s chances but we both knew what the likely result would be. Asked about the vomiting bug that had hit the All Blacks earlier in the week he said that they had almost all recovered although one or two players were probably only at 80% fitness.
My guest for match day was Justin Millar, a long-time sponsor and former player of Broadland-Gt Yarmouth RFC, and his wife Mel. We had arranged to meet at 12:30 at the stadium but at noon I got a call from him to say that he was at Richmond. He had only just read the letter I had sent him telling him about the strict dress code of jacket and tie, no jeans and no trainers. He had been a corporate guest at Twickenham before but in other areas of the stadium where things were less formal so he was wearing a polo shirt and trainers and was starting to panic.
I told him not to worry as I had a spare jacket, shirt and tie he could borrow but as we hadn’t met before he nervously asked me how big I was. When I told him I was six foot tall and 18 stone there was a brief silence before he said ‘I’m 5’6”’. That clearly wasn’t going to work so he said he would go into Richmond and buy some clothes there.
About an hour later a very dapper looking couple came into lunch and after we introduced ourselves I commented how well he had done in his choice of clothes. It turned out that the first shop they got to after leaving Richmond station was Ted Baker and the price of a jacket, shirt, tie and a pair of shoes, and of not reading his correspondence sooner, was £550!
We settled down for the game and once again the unaccompanied National Anthem was emotionally belted out by most of the 82,000 spectators. Then the England team respectfully accepted the challenge laid down by the New Zealand Haka while the crowd responded by singing Swing Low. The match kicked off in a cacophony of cheers and the first half went by in a blur as we tried to come to terms with England leading 12-0 and looking the better team. The only disappointment for me was the unsportsmanlike whistling when Dan Carter was kicking for goal.
The second half promised to go as we all feared as two tries in quick succession saw the All Blacks just one point behind at 15-14. But the collapse we half-expected didn’t materialise and three England tries took the crowd to the heights of joy and delight. I had previously watched England play New Zealand five times at Twickenham and never thought I would see a win, a 26-26 draw in 1997 being the nearest I came. The celebrations saw every stadium bar overflowing although I retuned to my seat to watch England women take on New Zealand with the home team winning that game too.
The post-match dinner was rowdier than usual with the England players understandably wanting to celebrate while I had to admire the All Blacks who accepted the defeat and the end of their 20-game winning streak very graciously. I had the chance to have a few words with Israel Dagg, a player I very much admire, and I was impressed by the way he acknowledged how good England were and he refused to point to the sickness bug as a mitigating factor.
The England players left for their hotel to continue celebrating while me and my guests headed to Richmond to join the after-match festivities at the Sun Inn and the Orange Tree.
So ends another Autumn International series and my impression is that this young and still quite inexperienced England squad have learnt some lessons about themselves. The disappointing defeat against Australia and the unlucky loss to South Africa will remind them that they are some way from the finished article, but the remarkable win on Saturday showed everyone what they are capable of.
Surely they can only get better.
Pictures from the game