Player Ratings: The late rally
OPINION: Another November Saturday, another intriguing England versus New Zealand collision.
Only this time the spoils in the men’s contest were incredibly shared following a gigantic home team comeback that no one in the 81 364 attendance could have foreseen happening.
England were a beaten docket, 6-25 in arrears when Jordie Barrett nonchalantly stroked over a drop goal with nine minutes remaining. Then, out of nowhere, the whole misadventure suddenly became one of those heroic comeback stories of monumental proportions.
Beaduen Barrett was yellow-carded for breakdown messing in the lead-up to the unconverted 72nd-minute Will Stuart try that should have been a mere consolation that massaged the margin of a demoralising defeat. But it remarkably wasn’t, England going for broke and suddenly shifting the ball with poise and purpose through the hands in a swaggering attacking manner that didn’t previously exist.
Their reward? Two stunning converted tries – the first from Freddie Steward and then Stuart crossing again – to lock it all up at 25-all in the final seconds before Marcus Smith kicked the restarted ball dead from inside his own 22 to some boos from fans who wanted England to cut loose one final time to try to win the whole darn shooting match.
A raucous English party still kicked off, their supporters full of merriment and beer at the stadium in the hour immediately afterwards while a stunned New Zealand were left to collect a meaningless trophy even though the final result felt like a defeat. What a bizarre, crazy situation.
Liam Heagney rates the England players:
15. Freddie Steward – 7.5
A difficult game for him to stamp his authority but he dug it out and finished a hero, scoring the second of the three late England tries, finishing off a move in the right-hand corner that he had been involved in earlier. This hunger for a second touch at a time of English desperation was the stuff of legend.
14. Jack Nowell – 6.5
Fit-again after last weekend’s late cry-off, his involvements were limited to improvisation under the high ball, a skill that he was uncannily excellent at. Was hooked with twelve minutes remaining with the score at 6-22 and England looking dead and buried.
13. Manu Tuilagi – 6.5
Another who can’t have been thrilled with his overall contribution. There was a first-half try-saver on Mark Telea and an energising early second-half break, but his race was run on 53 minutes not long after he was left diving at thin air in a desperate attempt to stop the unstoppable Rieko Ioane’s try-scoring break
12. Owen Farrell – 8
His 100th Test cap was all set to be a miserable milestone, his off-key effort seen in how he overcooked a penalty touch finder in a first half that ended with him struggling with an ankle injury. He persevered, though, just as he did with the referee whom he felt wasn’t giving his points of view a fair shake. Came gloriously good, however, in those madcap final minutes.
11. Jonny May – 6
Up against the inexperienced Telea, the rookie was the more impressive. May’s ball-in-hand efforts were negligible, as witnessed in the first-half penalty for offside when taking a pass off the scrum from Jack van Poortvliet. In the second, there was one encouraging break but he ruined it when penalised for holding on.
10. Marcus Smith – 7.5
Has shown signs that he was finally developing an attacking rapport with Farrell, but he couldn’t deliver an edge here for 70 minutes behind a struggling back and an unsettled starting scrum-half. Took over the second-half place kicking from the injured Farrell, he unsettlingly got involved in some remonstrations but he came good in end, cutting loose with a Harlequins-like end-game flourish.
9. Jack van Poortvliet – 6
Selected to inject speed, he had a horrid time bar an initial rush that neutralised the first All Blacks attack of the game. A kicking error soon followed, as did the horribly intercepted pass for the opening Dalton Papali’i try, and it didn’t get better, a soft ruck knock-on and a blocked kick by Scott Barrett further blotting his report card. Gone on 53 minutes.
1. Ellis Genge – 6
Had the advantage last week when it came to elbow down versus Japan, he was on the receiving end here when conceding the penalty at the scrum that set up New Zealand for their second try. There was a scrum penalty back for an opposition knee down, enabling England to get their only points of the first half, but he ended with the offside that Jordie Barrett punished for kicked points. Exited on 56 looking frustrated.
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie – 6
Was worryingly not near the top of his game last week and that general averageness carried over. There were plenty of tackles but his sole highlight was an early second-half penalty win for a no-release by a New Zealand player. Another who left the fray on 56.
3. Kyle Sinckler – 6
The third front-rower whipped off with 24 minutes remaining and England trailing by 16 points. Carried often but for little reward. Side entry penalty on halfway was also a frustration,
4. Maro Itoje – 7.5
Restored to the second row after two blindside outings, he was the first England player to touch the ball but struggled to impose himself on the action against the bulwarks in the All Blacks engine room. Nearly scored around the hour only to then gave away a penalty at a full-up ruck. Huge in through that adversity to help generate the end-game momentum.
5. Jonny Hill – 6.5
A troubled effort as it was the Kiwi engine room that dominated. Gave up the first penalty for an offside and his team’s maul wasn’t what it needed to be. Gone on 65 for Dave Ribbans, who came on and played like he had nothing to lose.
6. Sam Simmonds – 6
A fresh repositioning to No6, he tried to carry regularly but that effort didn’t have the desired effect. Look at how it was his lost ball on 50 minutes that ended up in the third New Zealand try. Taken off on 67.
7. Tom Curry – 7.5
Last week’s tackle king, he again topped the charts here. Was involved in verbals with Ardie Savea and it looked as it the New Zealander has the telling say when he won a penalty for no release with England huffing and puffing and without a try at the time. Stuck at it, his spirit being emblematic of his team’s revival.
8. Billy Vunipola – 7
A huge selection by Jones, including him along with Simmonds to start. Struggled with early inaccuracies such as getting in front of the ball carrier at a maul five metres out on 14 minutes. Was then penalised for off feet at a ruck. Another that looked like a well-beaten player who eventually came good in a frantic finale.
16. Jamie George – 7.5
On for the last 24 minutes, his energy helped bring the fight in that remarkable conclusion.
17. Mako Vunipola – 8
Unlike last week, when a dreary run off the bench began with a scrum penalty concession, he was in beast mode here and his battling ball carries were tremendous, especially in the build-up to the Steward try.
18. Will Stuart – 9.5
Back on the bench instead of Joe Heyes, he proved his worth in gold with an incredible two-try contribution. Bloody brilliant at a time when England were toast.
19. David Ribbans – 7.5
Chosen ahead of clubmate Alex Coles, he was introduced on 65 minutes for Hill and it didn’t start well as he was involved in the penalty for throwing the jumper across the line five-metres out. Rose to the occasion though in the closing minutes with some determined carries and one lovely offload when England attacked off the 11-25 restart.