Three cheers for the Mighty England. They did not lose by a record score against New Zealand. It was merely the second worst home defeat in their history.
Let’s face it, though, it was a close run thing. Had the normally excellent Dan Carter not been feeling generous enough to miss three fairly easy penalties and two conversions, we would have been talking about a new low reached by England at Twickenham on Saturday.
As it was, the 6-32 defeat summoned sighs of relief that last week’s 6-42 trouncing by South Africa was not instantly blown out of the water by a new disaster.
If there is consolation to be had, it is that the spectacle did not become truly gruesome until the latter stages. The Kiwis were happily going about their business without too much fuss for an hour or so, barely getting out of second gear after the Haka – and allowing England to do the work for them by mining an inexhaustible seam of indiscipline.
It was only towards the end that the visitors cut loose to bag three unanswered tries – their extra athleticism and speed at the breakdown working to devastating effect as the home forwards tired.
It was the seventh defeat in a row at the hands of the all Blacks since the heady days of 2003 – the longest winning sequence in the 32-match history of the fixture, which dates back to 1905.
Kiwi excellence was one thing, but coach Martin Johnson has much to brood over concerning his own team’s shortcomings. England spent half the game with 14 men, having four players sin-binned at various stages – Lee Mears, James Haskell, Toby Flood and Tom Rees all had the walk of shame.
They also conceded 19 penalties, many of them lamentable lapses in intelligence and within close proximity to the England posts. Add that to a failure, yet again, to kick well from hand or from set pieces and you have a recipe for another disaster.
A try for England looked out of the question for all but the opening seconds of the second half, when Nick Easter was freed by Riki Flutey, only to be tap-tackled in sight of the try-line by the marvellous Malili Muliaina, whose superb afternoon was capped by two touchdowns in the corner before Ma’a Nonu rounded off the try-scoring with a burst from half way.
Few players have emerged from the autumn internationals with reputations enhanced. Delon Armitage at full back was a major plus point, but it has been a chastening three weeks for skipper Steve Borthwick and many of his colleagues, who have plenty to do to regain the faith of a dispirited Twickenham crowd.