Adam Hathaway says England tried to put a brave face on a game they should have put to bed on Saturday and salutes Wales for getting rid of their Wallaby woe.
Eddie Jones had his best Cheshire cat grin on, on Saturday night, and sitting next to him Owen Farrell was stoney-faced, but the true facial expression after England’s 16-15 defeat to the All Blacks should probably have been a combination of both.
Maybe the head coach and his co-captain could have met halfway and both smiled through gritted teeth whilst they were having their post-match chat with the officials who chalked off Sam Underhill’s touchdown.
England should still have won, despite that injustice, and will rue the 16-15 reverse for the rest of their careers whatever they say. If it happens in the World Cup they will rue it even more, so maybe they have got one out of their system.
Always look on the bright side of life as someone said and Jones’ men did give the Kiwis a proper rattle, especially in the first 25 minutes, when Chris Ashton scored and Dylan Hartley went over from an old-school driving maul, and the last few. But they didn’t get the W, as the modern sportsman unfailingly likes to put it.
England wins over New Zealand are rarer than a pint under a fiver around Twickenham and Farrell’s demeanour was the more realistic. This was a game that England could have won – it was the big one that got away.
Since 1905 England have played the All Blacks 41 times and won just seven of those, in 1936, 1973, 1983, 1993, 2002, 2003 and 2012. They should have added 2018 to the roster.
The key messages from Jones and his players afterwards in the bowels of HQ were that Underhill’s disallowed try was it was what it was….if we heard that once we heard it 58 times…. and England were on the right road.
However the feeling still persists that is one big fish England should have landed but it slipped off the hook just it was being reeled into the riverbank.
This would have been a whopper.
England chalked up an impressive start under Jones in 2016 and 2017, before faltering in the Six Nations this year, but they had never played the All Blacks.
Here was a chance to make a statement and they very nearly did.
The headline moment was Underhill’s non-try and this one will be talked about for as long as the New Zealanders still chat about Bob Deans’ non-score in the 1905 game against Wales, the only defeat Dave Gallaher’s Originals suffered in a mammoth 35-match tour.
Let’s get it out of the way.
England were a point behind with a handful of minutes left when Courtney Lawes charged down TJ Perenara’s kick and Underhill got the ball. Beauden Barrett had been shifted to full-back by then and the Bath flanker made a proper mug of him, twisting him one way then the other before diving over in the corner.
David Campese would have been proud of that, let alone Jonny May as the England players said after, and Twickenham went gloriously bananas when referee Jerome Garces gave the score.
Then came the dreaded TMO and we all know by now what happened next. Lawes was ruled offside, the try was chalked off and England’s late efforts could not turn it round.
Whether you think Lawes was offside or not, and this observer thinks he was fine, there is a suspicion that officials are ignoring people going in front of the rear foot of breakdowns unless a try is scored.
In cricket umpires are now virtually not bothering to look at, or call, no-balls until a wicket goes down and then they go upstairs to look at the legality of the delivery before anything else.
On Saturday, Garces could have whistled for about nine million instances of players being offside and referred them to the bloke with the goggle box. Thankfully he didn’t or we would still be at Twickenham station, queuing for the rattler, but Lawes has every right to feel aggrieved.
Also how often do you hear a referee telling a player to get back at a breakdown without pinging them? Garces did no such thing – RugbySpy had the RefLink on.
And one more thing, the round of games this weekend was the first of a World Rugby trial to reduce the influence of the TMO. The governing body reckon the bloke with the whistle should be able to make decisions – how revolutionary.
They have also stopped the ‘on-the-run’ use of the TMO by the ref which some, such as Wayne Barnes and Nigel Owens, used brilliantly to check potential foul play without stopping the flow of the game.
No we can’t work out why either.
One day we might even get through a game without a controversial TMO decision but don’t hold your breath.
Jones put a brave face on it. He has beaten the All Blacks five times as a coach with the Wallabies but some of his squad had never played them, let alone beaten them.
“Sometimes the game loves you, sometime the game doesn’t love you,” Jones told us. “You have got to accept that if you stay in the fight long enough, the game will love you. We’re prepared to stay in the fight so we will get some love further down the track, don’t worry.”
Maro Itoje, who had a stormer and deserved to be on the winning side, towed the party line saying: “It is what it is. Obviously we would have liked for it to have gone the other way but the referees get paid the big bucks to make the big decisions. We just have to move on.”
We hung around for ages hoping that someone would flip their lid in the mixed zone – but we regret to report it did not happen. Shame.
England had managed to stay in the game despite making a dog’s breakfast of the line out in the second half and still could have won. There was a chance to manoeuvre for a drop goal but it never happened and a couple of times they turned down points to kick to touch to try another driving maul.
We couldn’t quite work that out, with Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett making a mess of the set-piece, but we were not on the pitch and if Jones says he can’t feel a game from the coaching box then we probably can’t from the press box.
England can take plenty from this game but Clive Woodward had it right when he said they should have won the game and winning matches is the best way to plan for the future. He should know.
On Radio Five Woodward referenced his great team which had Martin Johnson as skipper and Jonny Wilkinson as kicker. They would have taken the points and they would have built the score but they were not on the pitch on Saturday either. Owen Farrell was.
And Farrell, England’s ‘spiritual leader’ as Jones calls him admitted he thought they had New Zealand under the cosh so didn’t go for the three – he wanted seven. But he was trying for a drop goal, after Underhill’s effort was rubbed out.
“I thought it was a try but I probably would do,” he said. “That’s rugby I suppose. These decisions can go with you and sometimes against you. “I wanted to have a crack at them there and then. We started looking for the drop goal when there was time at the end but didn’t pull the trigger. Then the chance slipped away.
“It was a game that got away.”
England had the chance to join the boys of 1936 through to 2012 but it didn’t happen. English fans will be hoping they are smiling the next time they face the Kiwis and not having to grin and bear it.
Away from the madness of Twickenham, and good luck to anyone who got home before midnight, there was the madness of Cardiff where Wales finally got a monkey off their back by beating the Wallabies 9-6.
Tense for sure, definitely not classic, but the Welsh, and particularly their Kiwi coach Warren Gatland, would have bitten your hand off for that beforehand.
Gatland might not have bitten your hand off for the challenge that Aussie centre Samu Kerevi put in on Leigh Halfpenny and was ignored by the referee, Ben O’Keefe, though. Isn’t that what the TMO is really for and not to work out if a bloke was a millimetre offside?
But the Welsh still got the result.
The game was third against sixth in the world rankings but you wouldn’t have guessed which team was which by the head-to-head records over the last decade. Wales haven’t been able to buy a win.
Gatland’s mob had not beaten the Wallabies since 2008 and the match had bigger significance because the Welsh are in the same as the Aussies in Japan next year.
They could hardly check in all that heartache as excess baggage on their way to the Far East in 2019.
They nearly did until Dan Biggar’s penalty got the tills rolling in the pubs of Westgate Street and St Mary Street.
And that spices up events for next year. Ireland, Wales and England are on the coat tails of the Kiwis, South Africa are on the rise after their last-ditch win over France. Chuck in Argentina and the Wallabies, who always come good in World Cups, and we could be in for a treat.
Oh yes, and Ireland play the All Blacks on Saturday.