New Zealand v England 2nd Test Review

Manu Tuilagi's excellent performance wasn't enough for the tourists
Manu Tuilagi's excellent performance wasn't enough for the tourists

Two games and two defeats, yet once again it was close for the English...

Lancaster’s men aren’t ones to shirk a challenge but, after successive galling losses in two brutally physical clashes, will another game in what has already been a mammoth season be a step too far?

New team, new players, but the same painful result for England as New Zealand's brutal second half display secured another narrow victory for the hosts.

Whilst last week produced a feeling of pride and promise, with a second-string Red Rose almost producing a shock result, this encounter veered towards the disappointing.

In the words of back-row Tom Wood - who was one of the changes in this revamped side - their performance "wasn't good enough." It was perhaps an overly harsh assessment, particularly when they scored three tries and ultimately ran the world champions close for the second time in succession, but there is no doubting that this supposedly first choice outfit made far too many mistakes.

Their attacking verve and endeavour was admirable but much like in game one, Stuart Lancaster's team failed to take the opportunities that presented themselves.
England controlled the first half and made regular incursions through the All Blacks' rearguard, with Rob Webber, Billy Twelvetrees and Manu Tuilagi all setting up scoring chances.

However, the pressure never materialised into something more fruitful and, as Steve Hansen's men so often do, the tourists were made to pay.

The first 25 minutes of the second period showed New Zealand at their best. In Julian Savea, who returned from injury, they have one of the most potent attacking weapons in the sport.

Ben Smith also reverted to his favoured position of full-back, due to Israel Dagg's unavailability, and he was also quite outstanding, scoring the try which crucially started their period of dominance.

All of a sudden, after 120 minutes of mediocrity, the home side's swagger returned. The intensity at the breakdown, an area that the visitors had controlled, was now fiercely contested by Richie McCaw and co, and England failed to cope.

Stuart Lancaster's team at least displayed their character, a trait that has become synonymous with the Cumbrian's regime, to reduce the deficit to one point, but the head coach shouldn't be without blame for this defeat.

The idea of moving Tuilagi to the wing appeared to be a fanciful one before the match, even if the Leicester Tigers powerhouse had played there in age-grade rugby, and that prediction proved to be correct.

He didn't do anything particularly wrong and was solid defensively, dealing with the little chip-kicks that the All Blacks were inevitably going to test him with, but the Samoan-born player failed to have any impact on the game.

It makes the decision even more bewildering when Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell both underperformed in the centre, and it was Twelvetrees' misplaced off-load which allowed the hosts to counter-attack for Smith's decisive try.

Tuilagi was dominant in the opening match and arguably produced his best display in a white shirt last weekend and he must surely now move back to his favoured position.

Having lost the series, questions will arise as to how England - and New Zealand - will approach the final encounter mentally.

Lancaster's men aren't ones to shirk a challenge but, after successive galling losses in two brutally physical clashes, will another game in what has already been a mammoth season be a step too far? Or will Hansen's side step off the gas having completed the task? 

The latter is certainly unlikely with the All Blacks now on a 16-match winning streak and you suspect that the Red Rose will also want to prove themselves among the best by securing a Test victory down under.

Even with the series over, the third game will still have an expectant air to it and, for England's development as a team, a win is almost a must.

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