This is what stands out to me from the game today:
- Ashton has no intention of giving up his try-dive. It doesn’t seem to matter what anyone says, he just grins at the person raising the issue (assuming that it is an issue) and goes and does exactly the same again next time. And if there was a time for him to change his ways, or moderate his ego, then playing against the All Blacks was surely the time. But no, it would seem that try-dives are here to stay. One day he’ll drop one in an international, but, until then, we will have to accept that’s the way he mauls.
- The squad approach seems to be working. Gone are the days of picking your best Fifteen and only changing when someone gets injured or puts in a gutter performance. Youngs or Care at Scrum Half, Farrell or Flood at Fly Half, they all need to be ready to play in this ultra-physical era. And the absence of a secure place in the team doesn’t seem to affect them badly. In fact, it has the effect of galvanising them into greater efforts for the next game, unlike in football. Why that might be, I don’t know. But the squad ethos being forged by Lancaster is one of the real plus points of English rugby at the moment.
- Robshaw is not a dud captain; quite the opposite. He was criticised (fair enough) for his decision-making against Australia last week, but no such error this week. He’s learnt to kick and take the points when on offer, which is essential at international level. And his main strength as a captain is his willingness to put himself about. Leading by example is a cliché in most circumstances, but it remains apt in this most attritional of sports. Time and again he carried the ball and made the tackles. More and more he looks like a leader on the pitch, making it his personal responsibility to get things done. That’s what Dalaglio and Johnson both did, and that’s why they were great forwards and leaders on the pitch. Robshaw’s the closest (although still someway behind) to these two since that generation retired.
- Tuilagi is a wrecking ball. Make that a ball of gristle. He doesn’t have the flair of a Guscott, but I’m not entirely sure that type of player can flourish in this era. Players are so strong now and defences so tight, that centres need the bulk to just stay in the game. It would be nice to see a bit more intuition, but that’s being picky. Give him the ball and he rarely loses it in contact, and gets over the gain line as frequently as any forward, perhaps more so. Great intercept for his try.
- The All Blacks are still awesome. They might have lost 38-20 (Yep! Didn’t I mention that?), but they’re still great. Twenty games unbeaten. It had to end sometime, so why not England at Twickenham. For a moment, when they clawed the score back to 15-14, it seemed they had just been playing about, such was the frenzy of their play. And even in the last phases (admittedly when England were reduced to 14 men after a Vunipola infringement born more of naivety than anything else), the All Blacks still kept coming.
- And England won. Yep. Against expectation. Not since 2003, apparently. And England’s biggest winning margin ever. That is all.