Come on admit it, you didn’t see that coming did you, not even in your wildest imagination? I certainly didn’t. Secretly I wouldn’t have been overly disappointed if England had lost and finished within five to 10 points of the All Blacks, that is how monumentally big I felt the task was facing England heading into the clash.
What we witnessed on Saturday though was a performance of the highest class and it’s not stretching things too far to say it was finest performance and result for an England team on these shores, ever!
Certainly in my lifetime I cannot remember a better display at Twickenham. When assessing the merits of Saturday’s performance you need to get into context the standard of the opposition that England were faced with, arguably the greatest All Blacks team ever, and that should not be underestimated. I found myself towards the end of the game urging England to take the score line over the 40 point mark, and laughing to myself at the ridiculousness of it all, putting up such a score against any All Blacks team is just pure fantasy.
It was a truly outstanding effort by the England squad and one which has given a massive shot in the arm to world rugby, as people were starting to wonder how this New Zealand team could be beaten.
Let’s not forget these guys are human beings, as I have said in the past they like to portray the aura that they are somewhat not of this planet, but under pressure any human is fallible and that is exactly what England did. They pressured them, stop them playing and make them look, well…ordinary.
Physically England were far superior, it started up front and at the breakdown where the pack was on a different level to what we have seen so far from them. Tom Wood was a deserving man of the match, but to pick a star man was very tough as any player on the pitch wearing a white shirt would have been a deserving winner.
It was great to see the England midfield ram the criticism down the throats of those who have questioned them over the last month.
I am one of those who have thought the balance wasn’t quite right and have never been happier to eat my words - and they have never tasted so good.
The same could be said of Chris Robshaw who put in a proper captain’s shift, nothing flash but worked himself to a standstill. The difference in the emotions he would have been feeling from a week earlier couldn’t have been starker.
What really has me excited about this display are the players that we have missing from the squad currently. Imagine throwing Dylan Hartley, Ben Foden and Tom Croft back into the mix? There is real competition for places and the fight to be in the squad come the Six Nations now will be stronger than ever, everyone wants to be on the England bandwagon now. I said last week that if England could produce a performance against the odds, the games against Australia and South Africa would be quickly be forgotten, and boy have they been quickly erased from most people’s memories.
I would however like to serve a note of caution and restraint at this point just to temper all the celebrations and fanfares.
This cannot be a one off, England must kick on from this display in 2013 and it has to prove to be a real D-Day in their development. They have proved they are capable of playing at the highest level, and that must be sustained in the Six Nations.
The big challenge now is that the mindset shifts from underdogs to favourites alongside France. That is a different place to be and they have proved already, against Australia, that tag doesn’t sit well. So as the festive season approaches I am not turning ‘bah humbug’, but hope like most England fans that this great day in English rugby history will be a springboard towards world cup success on home soil in just over two years’ time.
SAINTS CAN UPSET THE ODDS AGAINST ULSTER
It has been a positive couple of weeks for the Saints as they seem to have arrested their run of poor form with two important wins.
Northampton looked much more like their true selves against Sale on Friday night and it’s no secret that improvement has timed with the return of Ben Foden and skipper Dylan Hartley to the team.
All season long so far Saints have looked a better team when Hartley is on the pitch, he seems to galvanise the forward pack which is the lynchpin of Saints game plan, they really do rely on a dominant performance from the pack.
Foden’s return added the spark that has been missing to Saints’ backline, I have felt for a few weeks that the team were lacking a yard or two of pace and Foden gives you that.
Before the start of the game I would have been happy to accept the win, but on reflection after a superb first half Saints ought to have come away from Sale with a try bonus point.
Sale without doubt had a blast from new coach John Mitchell at half time and looked like a different team in the second half. For Ulster’s visit on Friday night, Saints will have to lift their performance several levels to be competitive.
Ulster have been outstanding this season and look like genuine contenders for the European title this season.
If the win for England against the All Blacks proves anything, it’s that you can never write a team off.
If Northampton are to qualify for the quarter finals they simply must win on Friday.
I think they’ll upset the odds.
GRAYSON DESERVING OF LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
It was a real privilege for me to attend the BBC Look East Sports Awards in Bedford on Tuesday night and present a well deserved lifetime achievement award to Paul Grayson. The look on his face as I walked on stage was priceless, he had no idea that he was receiving it and he was genuinely shocked and humbled.
He is certainly enjoying some down time with his family after almost 20 years commitment to the Saints, it was a really appropriate way to sign off a glittering and successful career in Northampton as player and coach.