All Blacks ride their luck at revamped Twickenham
9 November 2014
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England ran New Zealand close and yet again they came up short, but now more than ever since Stuart Lancaster took over I can see them as World Champions next year.
Saturday was my first chance to see the latest upgrades to the stadium as part of a £75m programme of improvements leading up to the Rugby World Cup. The hospitality areas have been given a makeover and white cladding has been put on the outside of the structure to brighten up the bland concrete fascias. As part of the centenary commemorations of The Great War a new painting, “England Forever”, has been commissioned to hang at the top of the staircase in The Spirit of Rugby depicting the last England team to play before war broke out. Six of the players were killed during the war, their deaths symbolised by darkened roses on their chests.
Out in the bowl all the seats have been replaced and there are two huge new screens, but the most striking improvement is to the match lighting. They have used LED floodlights that give out a mind-boggling 2500 lux, which you have to compare to standard club floodlights which are between 100 and 300 lux. The effect is stunning with no shadow and the playing area brighter than day. The difference was particularly marked if you watched the game on TV.
The game was thrilling but I don’t share the generally pessimistic views of sports writers after the final whistle. England took the game to New Zealand with Johnny May’s early try setting the tone for the first half. For me, the game hinged on three moments of luck that went the visitor’s way when on another day England may have benefited:
- When Kyle Eastmond passed to Mike Brown who had the line at his mercy it looked like England would go two tries ahead, and although he would catch the ball and ground it over the line 99 times out of 100, this was the 100th which was dropped.
- In my opinion Nigel Owen is the best referee in the world and I applaud the fact that he trusted his own judgement to award the All Blacks their first try. But if he had decided to go to the TMO there was every chance that it would have been disallowed
- The third moment again was to do with not consulting the video ref when the touch judge flagged Dylan Hartley for a late tackle. Owens asked him if he would like to see the video but he said he was sure so a penalty was awarded with Cruden kicking the three points. But having watched the incident again I doubt either the referee or the TMO would have agreed that it was a penalty
If England had the rub of the green and these incidents had gone their way, instead of turning round at half time 14-11 up, they conceivably could have been leading 21-3. In the second half the All Blacks gave a masterclass in how to control and manage a game in very difficult conditions, but I don’t think they could have overcome an 18 point deficit with England so dominant in the line-out and scrum.
I have further reason for optimism in the World Cup when I look at the players who weren’t present; Corbisiero, Coles, Launchbury, Tuilagi, Burrell, all of who potentially could have made the match day squad. There was room for improvement in England’s game and some of these players could have been the difference between defeat and victory.
The All Blacks are the best team in world rugby, but yesterday they looked beatable and in a year’s time there is every chance that England will do exactly that in the Rugby World Cup final….but they will need a bit of luck!