New Zealand scrape past England - First Test review

England gave it their all but they fell just short in Saturday's first test.

No doubt the All Blacks will be disappointed by their inability to hold onto the ball for any sufficient length of time or bring their usual ferocity at the breakdown, but that was partly due to the pressure exerted by the visitors.

Pride was in abundance for England head coach Stuart Lancaster following their defeat to New Zealand on Saturday, but that was matched by the sheer agony of an opportunity missed.

The patched up Red Rose, who were without their Northampton Saints' and Saracens' players, were outstanding. Although it may seem a bit distorted to heap praise on a side that has lost a Test match, it was an excellent display, considering the circumstances which weighed so heavily against the tourists.

No doubt the All Blacks will be disappointed by their inability to hold onto the ball for any sufficient length of time or bring their usual ferocity at the breakdown, but that was partly due to the pressure exerted by the visitors.

Captain Robshaw epitomised a team who played with passion, intensity and no little skill. The back-rower may not be the flashiest of individuals or an openside flanker who specialises in winning turnovers, but his work-ethic is among the best around.

That allows him to carry the ball, make tackles, influence the contact area and have an altogether gargantuan effect on the game.

Maligned by many and even loathed by some due to his perceived arrogance, the boisterous and garrulous James Haskell was equally influential.

Perhaps not quite as prominent in the loose as his back-row partner, Haskell's nuisance factor was invaluable, while the London Wasps' player's leadership qualities - having garnered over 50 caps - shone through.

To complete the trio was Ben Morgan. Strong with ball in hand and sturdy defensively - a previous weakness of the 25-year-old. The no. 8 was a wrecking ball throughout, putting behind him a season of frustrations at his club side Gloucester, where he failed to match the expectations placed on him.

Another impressive current Cherry and Whites' star - officially anyway, having agreed to join Leicester next season - was Freddie Burns. The stand-off's place in the side was questioned before the encounter, having had a woeful campaign for the West Country outfit, but the pivot was calm and composed, producing a faultless kicking display off the tee and guiding England around the park impressively.

By contrast, Burns' opposite number Aaron Cruden was inferior and his error-strewn performance characterised a surprisingly lacklustre New Zealand.

Often being regarded as slow starters in the June Test series, even by those standards this was well below par.

However, with the depth of talent available to the hosts, they always have a moment (or two) of inspiration within their capabilities and it came through Cruden who, instead of taking the points, opted for a quick-tap penalty which eventually saw Conrad Smith touch down.

For boss Steve Hansen it provided a huge relief and this could have been England's best chance of beating the All Blacks this month.

Only Jerome Kaino could really claim to have played to his stature in the world game, yet they still won, and that will be a boost to Hansen who may look at some of his options this week.

Mass changes aren't expected for the home side but if Ma'a Nonu, Israel Dagg - who has been below his best for some time - and Tony Woodcock continue with their ways from the opening match, New Zealand's head coach will have to look at alternatives.

For the Red Rose, the situation has become complicated. With Kyle Eastmond, Haskell, Morgan, Burns and Geoff Parling all impressing, will Lancaster now resist the temptation of bringing in the Northampton and Saracens cavalry?

Judging by the Cumbrian's tones post-match, it is unlikely that the majority of those individuals will retain their place, but they have at least given a glimpse of the depth the Twickenham-based outfit now possess.

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