England 21-24 New Zealand
A lesson in game management
Tom Hamilton at Twickenham
November 8, 2014
New Zealand put on a lesson in accuracy © Getty Images

Accuracy cannot be bought. Everything the All Blacks do to tweak those little bits here and there eventually bring about an inevitability when it comes to Test matches. Focus translates into accuracy. After a nervy first half where New Zealand were surprised by England's fast start, they strangled them in the second 40 as the rain closed in and only allowed them a sniff at the end when the result was already tattooed into history.

At the start of the match following the haka, England kept the All Blacks waiting. They spent their time taking off tracksuits and then going into a huddle while New Zealand waited to kick-off. But when it came down to the key third-quarter of the match, it was England who had to be patient while the All Blacks built phase after phase. They did not give England an inch and instead ensured they were barracked inside their own 22. The only time the ball left England's half was the odd kick through. It was a masterful lesson in game management.

"We feel with another 12 months as we get towards the World Cup and with those on the sidelines back then we will keep our confidence and direction we are heading"

Having superior territory and possession does not always make victory inevitable. The Chiefs under Wayne Smith's watchful eye had the ball less than any other team in Super Rugby but what they did with it saw them win back-to-back titles in 2012 and the year after. But even the old All Blacks coach who prides himself on ruthless incision when you did get the pill would surely have raised a smile at the mastery at which the All Blacks managed the period when they were down to 14 men following Dane Coles' sin-binning.

"We won the game in that 10 minutes," was Steve Hansen's verdict following the game and for England lock Dave Attwood, that segment was proof of the All Blacks' standing as the best team in the world.

Alongside their pragmatic play, there were moments of brilliance. Kieran Read's offload for Jerome Kaino in the build up to Aaron Cruden's try was sublime. Read and Conrad Smith also put together a one-two in the first half which did not lead to a try but was exceptional. They also left points on the field with Sonny Bill Williams backing himself on occasion when a pass or nudge through would have been a better option.

England's Chris Robshaw watches on, England v New Zealand, Twickenham Stadium, November 8, 2014
© Getty Images

But they still took chances. Alongside their unique ability to keep hold of the ball when faced with difficult conditions and a numerical disadvantage, they are clinical. The wonderful Julian Savea did not get a chance to punish England like he has in the past but they manage to carve out space on a congested pitch like no other side. They also rarely look flustered in defence; in contrast for Richie McCaw's try England were left outnumbered on the short side and the All Blacks picked them off.

For Stuart Lancaster, he will now look at opportunities missed like Mike Brown's dropped pass and their poor game management when the heavens opened on Twickenham. Danny Care's box kicking from the breakdown was erratic while he will lament the odd panicked, wayward clearance from Owen Farrell. "In terms of the work-ons: the accuracy of the kicking and the pressure we put on ourselves by playing around the halfway line when the weather turned" are areas Lancaster wants to address.

There were positives. The pack performed admirably considering they were without six British & Irish Lions and lost Courtney Lawes early on. Dave Attwood did well at lock as did substitute George Kruis while Chris Robshaw put in an enormous amount of work at openside. Jonny May's try also repaid Lancaster's faith with a great individual effort in the third minute. Dodging past Conrad Smith, Ben Smith and Israel Dagg is no mean feat.

This is now England's fourth loss on the trot against the All Blacks but Lancaster feels the gap is narrowing. "We feel we aren't far away. We feel with another 12 months as we get towards the World Cup and with those on the sidelines back then we will keep our confidence and direction we are heading." And that's what it boils down to: if England go on to win next year's tournament then today means little.

That's the future. As for the present, it was business as usual for the All Blacks but England must now switch attention to the Springboks. "Next week is as big as this week" for Lancaster; the challenges are not getting any easier.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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