Opinion

Failure to maximise opportunities costs England against the All Blacks

If it wasn’t for the TMO ruling that Courtney Lawes was offside in charging down TJ Perenara’s box kick, then England may still have pulled off an impressive victory over the best side in world rugby. If they had also not knocked the ball on in New Zealand territory in the waning moments, robbing themselves of the opportunity to kick a winning drop goal, they could have won even despite that. However, these final moments may not have been so important if England had tried to make the most of their ascendancy earlier in the game.

England came roaring out of the gates, looking like a team from a nation just getting into the swing of their season as opposed to one at the end of theirs. In the first 25 minutes the home side dominated the All Blacks and scored all of their eventual 15 points. Here is where the problem lay though. When conditions are as poor as they were at Twickenham, with heavy rain falling for the duration, points are at a premium. Handling errors are more likely with a wet ball and so on which limits longer moves. This means when you have a chance, or the strong upper hand, you should be maximising your points per opportunity as opposed to just grabbing what you can.

“Going for the extra points is worth it in a game that ended up being decided by the minimal margin of one point.”

In the tenth minute, almost immediately after a turned over lineout in a good position, Owen Farrell kicked the fairly routine drop goal instead of trying to see whether his side could score another try against the poorly performing defence of New Zealand. If England had simply gone through a few more phases trying to go for the jugular, a try could have proved pivotal. Against the All Blacks you know the switch is going to get flipped at some point and the best in the world are going to show it. This means that you need to make sure if you do catch them cold you need to build the biggest lead you can. They’re a horror villain that you need to stab, shoot and drown to make sure they can’t come back. England then went on to score their final points just 15 minutes later for a 15-0 lead.

New Zealand then woke up, and promptly put up 13 points in just 7 minutes of game action to only now be a couple of points behind. Their try was also an example of maximising your return. When there was an infringement by England deep in their own 22, the All Blacks took the option of the scrum instead of just kicking at the posts. The choice of the scrum still gives a good chance of the 3 points as your floor, but gives you the obvious upside of the try as well. A minute later Damian McKenzie, who had been at some fault for the play leading to Farrell’s drop goal, went over under the posts for the easy conversion.

“This is the sort of choice that is genius if you pull it off, like the opposition earlier, but is criticised all day long if it doesn’t work.”

In the second half the away side took over, Brodie Retallick giving replacement hooker Jamie George fits at the lineout, scuppering one of the main ways England had managed to gain traction with the maul. New Zealand scored the final points with the final quarter still to play, but the match was far from over. This was shortly after England actually did go to maximise their return for their score.

When gifted a penalty instead of taking the points, the ball was kicked to the corner. Going up 9 points wouldn’t be a great victory here given how quickly the All Blacks put up 13 earlier. The ball was nearly driven over from the ensuing play twice, but the ball was coughed up for a New Zealand scrum leaving the England side fruitless. This is the sort of choice that is genius if you pull it off, like the opposition earlier, but is criticised all day long if it doesn’t work. Going for the extra points is worth it in a game that ended up being decided by the minimal margin of one point.

Despite this sub-par decision making with the points, and with the performance in the final quarter, England could nearly have won. Just 5 minutes from the end Courtney Lawes charged down a poor kick from the opposing scrum half, and Sam Underhill ran it into the corner for the try. In an extremely marginal call, the TMO overturned this, probably correctly.

This is the swings and roundabouts of the marginal decisions. You win some, like with Farrell’s tackle without his arms last week, and you lose some. Even with this score getting overturned, England had the ball for a routine drop goal with a couple of minutes left for a momentous win. They then knocked the ball on in a key situation for the second time in the match to seal the game for the All Blacks. The game ended up being decided by the marginal decision of the TMO team, after England didn’t look to make the most of their opportunities when they had the best team in the world on the ropes.

Callum McPhail

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Featured image courtesy of Matt Boulton via Flickr, licence link here.

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