Rugby World Cup 1999
New Zealand ride roughshod over Woodward's England
October 9, 1999
Jonah Lomu explodes past Austin Helaey of England
© Getty Images
The tension was heavy, tempers were frayed, it looked as though things might explode into violence at any time. It was clear that the magnitude of the occasion had affected a good many. That was only the press box; goodness only knows how the players deal with the pressure.
Twickenham has been called a soulless place but its heart was beating with a rare intensity yesterday, despite, rather than because of the Swing Low dirge played beforehand. The charged atmosphere was helped greatly by a large and vocal minority of the capacity 75,000 crowd sporting All Black colours, or should that be colour.
This was the biggest game in England's recent history, certainly since the 1995 semi-final, and the referee was separating the two sides as early as the All Black Haka, which was met with a blinding flash of a thousand camera flashes.
The Kiwis came and the Kiwis conquered. What's more Jonah Lomu scored the decisive try just to prove that lightning really does strike twice. England played the price for kicking away too much possession and failing to have the self-belief to give the ball some width when they had plenty to play with. But most of all England lost because New Zealand defended as though their very lives depended upon it. In rugby terms they did.
Jonny Wilkinson kicked off and New Zealand were soon rocked onto the back-foot with some characteristic English driving. However Richard Cockerill missed his first lineout and the white defence survived a scare when Tana Umaga shredded them, only to be called back for crossing.
The energy expended in the early exchances would have fuelled a moon launch and Josh Kronfeld felt the full weight of the England pack when he found himself on the wrong side of one ruck. In these opening passages New Zealand were grateful to the boot of Andrew Mehrtens who repeatedly bought the Blacks time and space.
Against the run of play, and in what was their only excursion into the England 22 to date, New Zealand's Mehrtens opened the scoring after Jason Leonard was penalised for preventing release. Wilkinson duffed a chance to level the scores three minutes later.
English fans had no time to mourn that miss as three minutes later they were witnessing the All Blacks' first try. A simple blind side overlap put Christian Cullen through a gap. When Umaga was run down inches short it seemed that Dan Luger's pace had saved the day, but the dread-locked winger popped the ball up to Jeff Wilson who dived over in the right hand corner. Mehrtens' excellence continued with the touch-line conversion.
Wilkinson had already missed another penalty attempt when he finally opened his and England's account with a dead-straight forty yarder on 28 minutes. Scant reward for all the home side's territorial advantage.
Both sides were searching for an advantage but both defences stayed dominant with big hits around every corner. Mehrtens and Wilkinson both kicked three-pointers as the defenders were forced to cheat, so maintaining the Kiwis' seven point advantage. Matt Perry almost put Guscott clean away but referee Peter Marshall was correct in adjudging the pass slightly forward. Wilkinson fluffed another long penalty on the stroke of half time.
England's deficit of seven at the interval would have been less had Wilkinson brought his kicking boots and had Richard Cockerill not been responsible for losing the home side three lineouts thanks to his erratic throwing. England had enjoyed the majority of possession but New Zealand had the points on the board.
England suffered some bad luck in the beginning of the second half. Referee Marshall ignored Craig Dowd lurking offside but penalised the home side for using hands in a ruck. Once penalised the English forwards compounded their sin by choosing to argue which cost them ten metres and brought Mehrtens into range. The All Black flyhalf took the gift with thanks.
England, aware perhaps that the game was slipping, then enjoyed a purple patch which resulted in a score. Neil Back made the initial breakthrough. England repeatedly ignored overlaps and took contact instead. When Guscott got hold of the ball his chip through was covered by Justin Marshall under his own posts. Perry, chasing the kick, caught the Kiwi number nine in the head and Phil de Glanville pounced on the loose ball to claim the score. Wilkinson made the simple conversion.
The All Blacks responded but Mehrtens showed rare fallibility when missing from long-range. When England's forwards then stole a ruck ball from the Blacks who were promptly penalised for an illegal attempt to regain it, Wilkinson levelled the scores at 16 apiece with 25 minutes to play.
They were not to enjoy parity for long. New Zealand worked the ball left to Jonah Lomu and the Kiwis' runaway train ran away. Guscott, Healey, Dawson and Luger were unable to prevent him touching down in the left-hand corner. With Mehrtens' inevitable conversion the All Blacks regained their seven point lead.
The match was in the balance and another Kiwi score would kill it dead. De Glanville and Healey made good breaks for England and, at the other end of the field, only Luger's pace again prevented Cullen from scoring from long-range. Wilkinson miss-hit another penalty attempt and the New Zealanders brought on a host of substitutes.
One of these subs broke the stalemate and England's hearts. Healey, acting scrum-half, got caught in his own twenty two by the incomparable Kronfeld. Reserve scrum-half Byron Kelleher scooped up the ball to scamper over in the same spot that Lomu had. Mehrtens extended the lead to 30-16 with ten left on the clock and the game was over as a contest.
Both sides had chances in the last ten but both sides were understandably too exhausted to make them stick.
Clive Woodward will look his players in the eyes in the coming days and he will tell them that they can still win the World Cup the hard way. That they will do it by beating South Africa, by beating Australia and by beating, probably, New Zealand in the final. He will tell them all this, and he will be lying.
Scorers: England 16: Tries: de Glanville; Cons: Wilkinson; Pens: Wilkinson (3) New Zealand 30: Tries: Wilson, Lomu, Kelleher; Cons: Mehrtens (3); Pens: Mehrtens (3)