In the movie Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character roams the jungle opposed to an enemy hell bent on his destruction.
He is faced with an enemy that has superhuman strength and no visible weaknesses – an alien with immense offensive arsenal and an impenetrable defence. But something changes, during a skirmish the predator is wounded and his team of commandos notice a trickle of alien blood left behind.
This would provide the impetus that would eventually result in the predator’s demise and the famous quote, “If it bleeds we can kill it.”
The foe that England met on Saturday was a similar behemoth boasting fearsome ball runners, speed, stable set pieces and a bruising defence. New Zealand has not lost in Europe in many a year.
For England to be competitive they needed to win several battles – the gainline, set-pieces, kick well for territory, hope for some luck and make the most of limited opportunities.
The defence is the key and matching the gain line and for the most part they achieved that. England tackled ferociously keeping the New Zealand forwards behind the gainline and slowed ball down at the ruck without committing more than two to the breakdown. This enabled them to fan across the field with two in the backfield.
The rush defence kept New Zealand hemmed in and forced them to run into the defence and limited their ability to get out wide. This is a great example.
When New Zealand tried to exploit the space behind the line with cross field kicks, good positioning and recovery by the wingers prevented any damage from such forays. This is seen in the clip below:
These were all big wins for England- they managed to match the collision, slowed ball without committing numbers and fanned across using their rush umbrella defence to limit opportunities out wide.
The set piece is the other area that you must match the All Blacks. They have not lost a scrum off their own feed for months and so you were going to get limited change there but it’s important you can protect the ball off your own feed.
After last weeks mostly dismal showing against South Africa, the English forward pack scrummaged well, winning 5/6 scrums. The lineout pitted two of the best locks against each other- in a repeat of the British Lions series Brodie Retallick and Maro Itoje went head to head.
The English line out clearly won the first half – mauling over from close to rumble over for their second try of the game and stealing one against the throw. The maul that set up the second English try was brutal in its simplicity but enormously effective.
New Zealand clearly anticipate a maul with Sam Whitelock not even contesting but the work by the forwards entering the maul to secure the ball and then gain momentum was outstanding, and just as New Zealand probably try to bring it down from the side, virtually the entire backline enters the fray as well.
The second half was a completely different story and Nick Bishop has previously elaborated on how Retallick and the New Zealand defensive lineout took England to pieces.
You need to take your opportunities and both sides left points out there – the All Blacks butchered a golden opportunity for a try when Julian Savea knocked after some brilliant lead up play from McKenzie and Ben Smith.
England made bold choices, turning down a chance to kick a penalty goal by kicking for touch, leading ultimately to the maul that resulted in their second try. But they turned down further points early in the second half and came up empty after a Kyle Sinckler knock on.
The battle for territory was a fascinating one. Australia frequently tries to outgun the All Blacks with running rugby but inevitably come up short.
No one is better at attacking running rugby than the All Blacks. England made it a battle for territory using their kicking game orchestrated by Ben Young with box kicks and Owen Farrell.
In direct contrast to the Wales vs Australia match, this was tactical kicking at its finest with both teams showing how it should be done.
The box kicking was accurate, kicks to corners were precise and aerial balls in midfield almost always had designated chasers that were able to compete.
Of course in a game of such fine margins certain errors were made with Damian McKenzie and Aaron Smith kicking out on the full. It was a great battle between Farrell and Barrett with both putting in some great kicks to clear, gain territory and facilitate the kick-chase game.
It is a way to attack the All Blacks and gain territory while minimising the risk of turnovers. In a game with so many kicks – this kick by Henry Slade stuck in my memory. Seen in the clip below – seeing the winger advance Slade put in a beautiful kick behind turning the New Zealand defence around.
Did England have Lady Luck on their side? Driving rain made handling difficult but these are conditions both teams should be used to, with rain frequently seen games played in both countries.
Unlike last week when a no hands tackle went unpunished, this time Courtney Lawes was punished for a marginal offside call. Another decision that was debated all week.
It remains to be seen whether Ireland and the rest of the world can compete with the All Blacks, but the Lions and now England have shown some chinks in the armour. They are of course the only two teams to have kept the All Blacks below 21 points in the last four years.
Ireland have the requisite skill set to wound the All Blacks – a strong rush defence, set pieces and a disciplined possession-based attacking game that also utilises the wonderful kicking skills of Jonny Sexton and Connor Murray.
As we eagerly this weeks matchup between Ireland and NZ, the Irish must remember – ‘if it bleeds, we can kill it.’