By facing up to New Zealand's pedigree, England proved that every underdog can have his day
FROM THE BLINDSIDE:Teams can be defeatist facing the All Blacks but England showed what attitude and momentum can do, writes ALAN QUINLAN
It’s not often I’d be pleasantly surprised by an England win but you couldn’t feel any other way watching them beat New Zealand on Saturday.
Like everybody else, I assumed the All Blacks would finish off their year in style and stretch their unbeaten run to 21 games. I definitely expected England to put it up to them and to be really physical but I just didn’t see how they’d beat them. Refusing to lie down is one thing – actually converting it into a win is another altogether.
Especially against a team that does so many things right, nearly without thinking about it. I watched New Zealand really closely against Wales the week before and for 35-40 minutes they were close to perfect.
They weren’t committing huge numbers to the breakdown but they were still being efficient because each player was so strong in collision and in their contact work. I didn’t think England would be able to match them.
As it turned out, I was wrong because that’s exactly how England went about the game. It was sheer physicality that got them a foothold in the game – huge aggression that knocked New Zealand back time after time. Very often, that’s what rugby is all about.
It’s being physical, winning your collisions, putting in big impact tackles. It reminded me of Ireland’s second Test against the All Blacks in the summer in Christchurch, except this time England got the luck that Ireland could have done with. An intercept try would have gone a long way for Ireland that night.
England were better on Saturday than Ireland were during the summer but the similarities were there between the two performances. The only way to compete with New Zealand is to have a massive work-rate, to bounce up out of tackles, to show them your physicality won’t stop or even flag as the game goes on.
You had to admire the way England went about it, even though it felt a bit odd to be shouting for them.
All in all, it’s good for the game. It shows what the underdog can do and it’s no harm for everybody to be reminded of what’s possible every once in a while. People were thinking the All Blacks were invincible but England have reminded us that nobody is. That’s not how sport works.
Everybody who’s ever played sport has been in the underdog team plenty of times and most of us have been lucky enough to be on a team that overturned the odds with a big performance.
Afterwards, you always say that something about the week just felt right, that there was a belief in the squad there all the way through the build-up. And it’s always true – you do use hindsight after a win to point to how good everyone in the team was feeling and how much you were all looking forward to overturning the odds.
The thing is, it happens just as often that the belief is there all week and you still go out and lose.