NZPA - (7/11/2010)
The All Blacks maintained exclusive ownership of the trophy named in honour of Everest conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary at Twickenham, though a mountain remains to be climbed before they reach the dizzying heights of their unbeaten Investec Tri-Nations rugby campaign.
Retaining the Hillary Shield, extending their dominance over England to nine tests since 2003 and ensuring the 2010 Grand Slam assault continues at Murrayfield on Sunday (NZT) were positives emerging from the 26-16 triumph today, though the demeanour of players and management was hardly euphoric.
Critical self-analysis began soon after fulltime as the coaching triumvirate and captain Richie McCaw reflected on a performance reminiscent of the tour-launching Bledisloe Cup setback in Hong Kong .
For a second successive test the All Blacks had to defend desperately in the dying stages after a double-digit lead was whittled away. In Hong Kong the Wallabies overhauled a 12-point deficit with the final kick of the contest; at Twickenham the All Blacks sprang out to a 14-0 lead in the opening quarter before relying on the boot of Daniel Carter - and a try-saving tackle from Isaia Toeava on Shontayne Hape in the 75th minute -- to keep the resurgent English at bay.
When Hosea Gear and Kieran Read mocked England assistant coach Mike Ford's boast of coordinating one of the great defensive efforts of "real test rugby" the All Blacks appeared on the verge of denting some serious English pride before Prince Harry.
But accuracy - a hallmark of the six-test clean sweep of the Tri-Nations -- again wavered, particularly at scrum time where Owen Franks and Tony Woodcock frequently incurred the wrath of French referee Romain Poite.
Debutant Sonny Bill Williams also provided an apt snapshot of the All Blacks fluctuating fortunes. A sublime offload initiated Gear's opening try but his head and hands occasionally let him down.
McCaw summed up the dressing room discontent when acknowledging this.
"We were our own worst enemy at times."The attitude we want to play with is spot on and you don't want to stifle the guys ability to use space .... but you have to temper it."There were a couple of times where we had space and we gave the ball back to them because we weren't patient enough."Risk versus reward is the (concept) we have to get under control."
Assistant coach Steve Hansen said there was a sense of deja vu that extended beyond last weekend's sloppiness against the Wallabies.
"Our performances at the moment remind me of what we get in the early part of the season back home in June," he said."We're talking about a team that hasn't played together for a while and it's rusty."That's where our game is at the moment. We're half a stride off scoring five or six tries rather than two or three."
England, meanwhile, had to settle for a solitary five-pointer to Rotorua-born reserve hooker Dylan Hartley, a significant score given it was the first try conceded by the All Blacks on their end of year tour since Martyn Williams crossed for Wales in November 2006.
There were other minor victories for Martin Johnson to mull over as he prepares his side for next week's visit by the Wallabies.
England, in Poite's assessment, ruled the scrum engagement; inexperienced backs Ben Youngs and Ben Foden enhanced their reputations, while first five-eighth Toby Flood shaded man of the match Daniel Carter in general play.
"I'm encouraged and frustrated," Johnson said."We did lots of good things but for two weeks we talked about starting well and we were not on the pace."At the end we were far better, we had more conviction in what we did - but that first test syndrome we have suffered historically was there again."You can't replicate the tempo and physicality of test rugby in training, much as like to. We were rusty in all areas early on and that is going to hurt you - 14-0 is not a great place to be," he said, adding: "To get back from that position and give ourselves a shot was good."
The All Blacks head to Edinburgh tomorrow (NZT) with no fresh injury concerns arising from a physical, and occasionally spiteful, encounter.
However, prop Ben Franks' place on tour could be jeopardised by a back strain suffered during stretching exercises in the team hotel on Friday night. He was replaced on the bench by John Afoa and was due to have another medical assessment before the squad flew to Scotland.