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Clinical New Zealand, Sorry Scotland, and the brilliant School Season

Watching England v New Zealand on Saturday there was one particularly quality of the All Blacks that stood out and explains just why they are so good.

It was their decision making. Not just that they so regularly make the correct decisions, with experience and good coaching most can learn this, but their ability as the decision maker to commit wholeheartedly to your decision, and as a support player to react properly to it.

Take Julian Savea’s second try. While Ma’a Nonu’s offload was a delight, the creation of the try began with him making the decision run a line that was diagonal across the field between two defenders.

Given that the numbers were all evenly matched had he done this at a pace that Northern Hemisphere sides often attack at he would have simply used his teammates space and given the England defence an easy chance to slow the ball down, leaving coaches tearing their hair out at him for ‘not running straight’.

However what Nonu did was to commit completely to his decision, running so hard that from a situation where England were well matched defensively they were suddenly understaffed because his angle and the pace of his run drew both defenders.

That he ran so hard also meant that he was bound to dominate the contact, therefore enabling him the opportunity to release that brilliant offload for Savea to finish with his customary guile and strength.

It was a try created by brilliant skill but enabled by wholehearted commitment to a decision, and Savea’s perfect reaction to it. If you watch the replays you will see Savea just check his angle as soon as he realises that Nonu is going to draw Courtney Lawes into the tackle, just altering it enough to take his angle of running into the space vacated by Lawes.

It was beautiful stuff and by no means isolated, Kieran Read’s try came from similarly clinical decision making.

It is a very simple way of playing rugby, your job as a ball carrier is simply to make a decision and then commit to it, it is everyone else’s job to make sure that they react properly and that the decision becomes the right one.

England resilience

That said, New Zealand were far from at their best on Saturday, dare I say it, they may even have been a little rattled at times – certainly their penalty count was unusually high.

England can take a lot of credit for that, among many other things. Going a try behind to the All Blacks inside two minutes could very easily have led to a humiliation but that England recovered their poise and began to get on top in the match and indeed even take the lead, showed just how mentally resilient they are.

It may not have been vintage stuff but they ran the All Blacks as close as anyone has recently and it was by far their best performance of the autumn, setting them up well before they head into the Six Nations.

Woe for Scotland

It was all doom and gloom at Murrayfield though as Scotland lost 28-0 to South Africa. As is so often the case with Scotland though it was simple mistakes, with a bit of bad luck thrown in, that really cost them.

There were three clear cut interception chances for South Africa, one of which they scored from, and umpteen basic Scottish handling errors. Few would argue that Scotland should be beating South Africa but everyone would agree that they should at least be making South Africa beat them rather than handing it to them on a plate.

Wallaby madness goes on

Life just got a little easier for Scotland though with the news that six of the Australian team have been suspended from the Scotland game at the weekend after ‘breaching team protocols’ by having too much to drink on Tuesday.

You have to wonder at times just how this Australian squad can be so senseless. Hats off to Quade Cooper though, he appears to have been uninvolved, hinting at a new off field maturity and a sign that the vice captaincy is sitting well with him.

The knowledge that there had been a problem certainly did not seem to affect Australia against Ireland though, they looked good in beating the hosts, with suggestion that Ireland had maybe just underestimated them, something they definitely cannot afford against the All Blacks.

Wales looked in decent nick against Argentina, certainly they showed more creation against them than England did the previous week, scoring forty points, however for Wales this autumn series is all about one game – Australia in two weeks time. Expect changes against Tonga before an all out assault against the Wallabies the following week.

Extraordinary School Season

The school rugby season just keeps on getting better and better this year. The competition between teams is as good as any year that I can remember, with a core of about ten sides who could, on their day, make a very justifiable claim at being the best in the country.

Just look at this last week; Hampton beat Wellington and then KCS but then lost to Campion, while Wellington lost to Hampton before a tense victory over Sedbergh and then a defeat to Epsom, who last week drew with Brighton, a side struggling to hit the heights through most of this season.

There is also Whitgift who struggled against the top teams, results wise, this year but suddenly in the last week have resoundingly beaten John Fisher and edged out Dulwich on Saturday. Their trip down to Millfield this weekend is going to be a truly brilliant encounter; Millfield have put together the sort of run that strikes fear into every opponent, beating Llandovery College, Filton College and Blundell’s in an eight day burst of brilliance.

The competition has just been incredible, Woodhouse Grove were unbeaten and flying but suddenly, out of the blue, they lost in the cup in midweek. Meanwhile Bedford beat Radley 31-0, the same Radley side that drew 7-7 with the outstanding Tonbridge.

It has been extraordinary stuff, and it is only going to get more competitive over the next few weeks as some schools gear up for the end of their season.

There are just four weekend’s left in the Daily Mail Trophy (though for many schools there are just two), so that competition is about to start getting even more interesting as teams start jostling for final position and recognition.

The NatWest Cup is going to start getting very interesting too, over the course of the next fortnight is should be whittled down to the final 32 teams.

All of which just makes school rugby an absolute hotbed of competitiveness and quality over the coming weeks, it is certainly worth keeping a close eye on.

To see highlights of the England v New Zealand game, please follow this link: England v New Zealand.

By Angus Savage

@AngusSavageXV

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