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Irresistible England sign off in style

Date

Paul Ackford at Twickenham

England 38 New Zealand 21

England's scrum half Ben Youngs (L) breaks a tackle from New Zealand All Blacks' centre Conrad Smith. Click for more photos

England down All Blacks in record win

England score their biggest victory over the All Blacks. Photo: AFP

Stunning. Just stunning. The best team in world rugby, the best in world sport, some say, smashed by a tidal wave of white. Twickenham has known many great occasions in its long and distinguished history but there have been few to top this. It wasn't the fact of the victory which was so astonishing, but the manner of it. New Zealand were butchered, hung, drawn and quartered by an England side who played with passion, bite, style and, at long, long last, accuracy. There was nothing fortuitous about this triumph. It was close to a humiliation for New Zealand.

If there was one disappointment from an England perspective, it was that England had kept this hidden for so long. Who knows what might have happened in terms of their evolution if they had come out of the blocks with as much commitment and know-how as this earlier in their autumn series? Australia and South Africa would probably have been belted backwards and England would have been staring at a top four slot in the world rankings instead of being lumped together with one of the southern hemisphere big three or France when the draw for the 2015 World Cup is made tomorrow (Monday).

The scenes at the final whistle as yet another All Black forward was held up in the tackle were genuinely emotional. Chris Robshaw, who has had a brutal fortnight, punched the air with delight and the team turned inwards in an orgy of self-congratulation before they went to commiserate with the All Blacks. Let's run that phrase again: commiserate with the All Blacks. You don't get many of those experiences as an England player. The last time this happened was Wellington 2003. There's more. It was England's biggest margin of victory over New Zealand.

If Robshaw deserved huge credit for the way he has stuck to his task and the way he has played throughout the series, there were plenty of others who can look back on this game with pride. Joe Launchbury had a formidable match for one so young, starting big and growing bigger by the minute. Ben Morgan and Tom Wood were monsters in the tackle.

One of the drawbacks of Twickenham is that the supporters are some distance from the action, but I swear the stands shuddered in the teeth of some of the collisions. That was one of the factors which undid the All Blacks. They never got the go-forward ball, the momentum to put shape on their game because they were beasted physically.

With the scrum in decent shape and the lineout only marginally out of sorts, the challenge was for England's backline to front up. They did. And it was the improvement in execution which was the significant difference between England against New Zealand and England against the other southern hemisphere giants. The precision was there in defence and attack. In the first half England barely conceded a penalty in roughing up the Blacks. The line speed was needle sharp and it pressurised New Zealand into allowing Owen Farrell three penalties and a drop goal for a 12-0 lead at the interval.

Yet if that was notable, outstanding was just round the corner. New Zealand are not the best side in the world for nothing. Rocked by English muscle, they opened up in the second half to score two tries inside three minutes, recovering from a 15-0 deficit to get within a point of England at 15-14. There were 30 minutes of the match remaining when Kieran Read went over for the All Blacks' second try, half an hour for them to do what everyone expected: step up a gear and ask searching questions.

Cue England. Rather than go into their shell, they raised the tempo and raised the siege. Manu Tuilagi was magnificent during this stage of the match, bursting out of tackles and off-loading to confound those who argue that he can't. With Chris Ashton fastening on to breaks, England rattled the All Blacks just at the time when New Zealand were gathering for a big push. The composure of the England team generally was exemplary. Even when Stuart Lancaster emptied his bench to freshen up his side, the organisation and control stayed intact.

The damage to the All Blacks is incalculable. Reputations, even those as gilt-edged as Dan Carter's, were shredded, and there will be very little they can salvage from a performance in which only Conrad Smith and the wonderful Richie McCaw could hold their heads high.

England did the rest of world rugby a favour. They showed that no matter how skilled, no matter how well coached, no side can play when they are on the back foot for most of the match. The match stats had the territory and possession about even but it didn't feel like that. It felt that England were the side with all the energy and most of the aggression.

In some ways it was sad that New Zealand's wonderful 12 months, a year in which they won the World Cup and stimulated debate as to whether this was the best All Black side of all time, should end in such disarray. But that's the beauty of sport. Just when you think you've got it cracked, it rears up and kicks you in the teeth. Only a handful of folk had any faith in England going into yesterday's match and they were the 23 plus management and coaching staff who came out of the Twickenham tunnel into a glorious December evening. The bookies never saw it coming. That's how perverse, how eye-catching the result was.

Can England kick on? It's just typical that that question will have to wait for the start of the Six Nations which will be as claustrophobic as ever but which will not challenge England in the way the top southern hemisphere nations do. Leaving Twickenham last night it felt like a corner had been turned. But it felt like that two years ago when an England side under Martin Johnson had just smashed Australia. England 38, New Zealand 21: who'd have thought it?

Scoring sequence Farrell pen 3-0, Farrell pen 6-0, Farrell drop-goal 9-0, Farrell pen 12-0, Farrell pen 15-0, Savea try 15-5, Carter con 15-7, Read try 15-12, Carter con 15-14, Barritt try 20-14, Ashton try 25-14, Tuilagi try 30-14, Farrell con 32-14, Burns pen 35-14, Burns pen 38-14, Savea try 38-19, Cruden con 38-21.

The Telegraph, London

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