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Page last updated at 21:18 GMT, Saturday, 29 November 2008

Undisciplined England pay the penalty

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport at Twickenham

Not many teams beat the All Blacks with 15 men.

It says much for England's bloody-mindedness, if not their intelligence, that they thought they might have a go with 14 - and 13 briefly - for more than half an hour at Twickenham on Saturday.

It is also safe to say that Alain Rolland will probably be not on Steve Borthwick's Christmas card list.

England captain Steve Borthwick and referee Alain Rolland
Borthwick tries to get his point across to referee Rolland at Twickenham

The Irish whistler had already spoken to both captains, and sent Lee Mears and James Haskell to the sin-bin, when he summoned the England skipper for his umpteenth lecture of a sobering afternoon two minutes before half-time.

"I am sick to death of this," Rolland told Borthwick. "Any more indiscretions…if I have to put another four in the bin, I will."

As it was, he restricted himself to two more, Toby Flood - two minutes into the second half - and Tom Rees, late on, adding their names to the roll of dishonour.

Rolland and Borthwick were still in conversation minutes after England had slumped to their 19th defeat in 25 Tests against southern hemisphere opposition since 2003, and a record margin of defeat by New Zealand at Twickenham, surpassing the 40-21 loss in 2006.

For all the talk of "learning lessons" after the rash of penalties conceded against Australia a fortnight ago, some pupils had clearly been bunking off.

England manager Martin Johnson and Borthwick, to their credit, both refused to lay the blame for defeat with Rolland, Johnson noting only that four yellow cards in one game was "pretty unusual".

Haskell and Flood's, after all, were for a flailing elbow and a neck-high tackle respectively, both deemed sufficiently dangerous even if on another day penalties might have sufficed.

Those were hardly in short supply, even if Dan Carter was in benevolent mood, passing up a further 13 points with five missed kicks at goal.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry, understandably perhaps, praised Rolland's stance in dispatching breakdown offenders to the bin, even if those of a red rose persuasion might question whether justice was dispensed equally.

"He was very strict in that area, but I agree with what he did," Henry said. "If all the refs are as consistent as that, it will be positive in the long term."

Strange to relate, given what Johnson called the "merry go-round" of the yellow cards, New Zealand scored all their three tries when England had a full complement of 15.

When Flood returned to the field after 54 minutes, England had closed the gap to 6-12 with a penalty from the admirable Delon Armitage (the only second-half points the All Blacks conceded all tour) and remarkably had hopes of winning the game.

Those were swiftly made to look deluded within four minutes as the try that put that outcome beyond doubt highlighted the chasm in attacking class between the sides.

England's scrum, for so long the strongest part of their game, was driven back by a fired-up All Blacks eight.

The original pass eluded Ma'a Nonu, but Conrad Smith picked up the loose ball off his boot laces and straightened the line, Nonu looped round his centre partner to take the pass and off-load to wing Joe Rokocoko, who held his man before releasing Mils Muliaina for the right corner. Brilliant.

Now they have played the best teams in the world and they know a lot more what it is about

England manager Martin Johnson
Further glimpses of real quality followed with the deft chip from Carter that Muliaina nonchalantly caught one-handed to stroll in for his second, before the vision of hooker Keven Mealamu, the deft pass from Sitiveni Sivivatu and the rampaging power of Nonu for the third try.

Johnson, in Groundhog Day territory, was left to bemoan the usual failure to take chances, a loss of composure, an inability to maintain the physical intensity as the game wore on.

"Some guys still have a lot to learn, and we have a lot to learn as a team," he noted. "If you make mistakes at this level, you get killed.

"People have said 'at least you turned up and played' but Christ, that is the absolute minimum you expect."

Johnson claimed there were a "lot of high points" to take from this autumn series. He picked out Armitage, who has "come from nowhere in international terms", Riki Flutey, "outstanding on and off the field", Danny Care and Ugo Monye as players who had not even played a Test a month ago.

"Now they have played the best teams in the world and they know a lot more what it is about," he added.

Such "positives" have to be set in the context of some rather grisly facts however, which Johnson did not shy away from.

England manager Martin Johnson
Johnson could do nothing as the game slipped away from his side
"They have played their hearts out and come second best by 26 points," he noted. "It is a harsh world but if it was easy, it wouldn't be worth doing."

The All Blacks know where he's coming from.

As captain Richie McCaw was presented with the inaugural Hillary Shield, New Zealand celebrated a second 'grand slam' in three years, and their 38th Test win out of 39 against northern hemisphere opposition since losing to England in Wellington in 2003.

The one they lost, of course, that infamous World Cup quarter-final to France last October, is the one everyone else cares to remember.

These All Blacks still have to take their own Hillary Step, the name given to the formidable 40 feet of rock that proved an insurmountable final obstacle to the summit of Mount Everest until Sir Edmund and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay clambered over it on 26 May 1953.

Tri-Nations champions for nine of the 13 years since its inception, and for the past four, New Zealand have reached the South Summit more times than they care to remember.

No doubt they would love to fast forward three years to the next World Cup, when the pressure to lift the trophy on home soil will be, well, let's just say considerable.

New Zealand celebrate their victory
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw lifts the Hillary Shield
But no-one should under-estimate the value New Zealand bring to Test rugby per se.

Historically, they have a 74% success rate in internationals. In the last five years, under Henry, that has risen to 87%, with only eight defeats in 63 Tests.

The record for this year reads 13 victories from 15. Not perfect, but not too shabby.

On Monday, the All Blacks will discover two of their group opponents for the 2011 World Cup when the draw is made in London.

Whoever faces them - and it could be France, England, or any of the other home nations - will know their chances of success are already hugely compromised, three years before the tournament even starts.

New Zealand will start favourites, as always.

In the meantime, as they have in Edinburgh, Dublin, Cardiff and London this month, they will continue to set the standards for the rest of the world, reaching the peaks more often than anyone else.

England, meanwhile, have barely left Base Camp. The climb ahead is long, steep, and fraught with peril.

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see also
Johnson rues England indiscipline
29 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Carter praises All Blacks 'slam'
29 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
England 6-32 New Zealand
29 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Autumn Test photos
29 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
As it happened - autumn Tests
29 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Jeremy Guscott column
28 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Zinzan Brooke column
27 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Carter eyes 'grand slam' send-off
27 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
All black for England?
27 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Johnson says defeat was 'brutal'
22 Nov 08 |  English
England 6-42 South Africa
22 Nov 08 |  English
Wales 9-29 New Zealand
22 Nov 08 |  Welsh

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Sydney Morning HeraldIndiscipline keeps England out of match - 3 hrs ago
RFU Brave England cannot deny All Blacks Grand Slam - 20 hrs ago
Daily Express MATCH REPORT: England crushed by the All Blacks - 21 hrs ago
Sky Sports Johnno - Composure the key - 24 hrs ago
The Independent All Blacks wrap up slam with win over England - 24 hrs ago
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