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FEATURE – How to win in New Zealand: England 2003

06 June 2014

  • RFUtv looks back at England's famous win in New Zealand
  • Rowntree and Dallaglio offer insight into remarkable night

For an England touring team, winning at Test match in New Zealand involves the obvious challenge of subduing the 15 black-clad individuals on the pitch, but also withstanding the substanial weight of history.

England have only won two matches in 12 attempts against the All Blacks on Kiwi soil, the startling John Pullin-led 16-10 victory in Auckland in 1973 – after losing to Taranaki, Wellington and Canterbury earlier on the tour – and the nerve-shredding 15-13 win for Clive Woodard’s eventual Rugby World Cup winning side in Wellington in 2003.

Lawrence Dallaglio looks to cut off Justin Marshall

Photo: Getty Images

Stuart Lancaster’s troops advance into the first Test at Eden Park on Saturday to challenge a side which won 14 straight matches in 2013 and are on a 31-game winning streak at the venue that stretches back to 1995.

So how you defeat New Zealand in their own back yard? What are the ingredients required to throw the hosts off the boil and emerge with another slice of history? England Forwards Coach Graham Rowntree, unyielding in a considerable 80-minute shift at loose-head prop in the 2003 win, admits that while there was “trepidation” in the group, it did not overawe their desire and commitment.

“We were down to six men in the scrum at one point,” he said. “I was doing all I could not to go backwards. But we had a collective understanding of each other and a will to win in adversity that comes with experience.

“Immense physicality is what you need, you understand that going there. I remember the training we were doing leading up the game, the intensity of the breakdown. It was a famous night, things like that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Lawrence Dallaglio was one of the two men missing from the scrums Rowntree remembers so vividly, sin binned for killing the ball to deny New Zealand a certain try minutes after back row colleague Neil Back had seen yellow.

Similarly, the big No.8 agrees that England got the edge over New Zealand in physical terms on the wet and windy night, an achievement made all the more remarkable given the lengthy spell without the two back row workhorses so synonymous with the team’s success in those years.

“We didn’t play particularly well, but then again they didn’t play very well either,” he said. “It was a horrible night in Wellington and obviously a very passionate crowd and it was one of those where we had to defend, work really hard and if I’m honest we got the better of them physically. 

“We physically dominated them and Jonny Wilkinson kicked some good goals.”

Indeed, dead-eye Wilkinson kicked all 15 points from a variety of angles and distances. The old sporting adage of “getting the rub of the green” certainly applied too, as the duo explain with a salient example from their own experience in the game.

Rowntree, appropriately returning to the six-man scrums, remembers a poor Rodney So'oialo decision which ultimately relived the seemingly inexorable pressure on England’s line.

“They took a quick-tap from a penalty and somehow it was held-up; that kind of changed the game.

“But I also remember Carlos Spencer missed a few chances at goal and he bombed a try too.”

Talking through the incident where he saw yellow – “I could not believe I got one so soon after Backy” – Dallaglio mentions the fortune which saw All Blacks scrum half Justin Marshall pull his hamstring as he raced through for a certain try.

Jonny Wilkinson clears

Photo: Getty Images

“They broke free to score a try and Justin Marshall pulled his hamstring just before he was about to score,” he said.  “They were about to recycle the ball and I looked at the breakdown and thought I need to take one for the team here. But it was the right decision to make, it was either seven points to them or us down to 13 men and I think I made the right call at the time.

“And that period when we were down to 13 men I think we won the game 3-0, so that was probably the turning point.”

Majority of the England side who triumphed on that famous night in Wellington had their confidence boosted by a victory over the All Blacks at Twickenham the previous November. The 31-28 victory in 2002, thanks again to a 21-point Wilkinson haul, was at the time the fifth ever over New Zealand.

After Rowntree, Dallaglio and co. delivered the aforementioned sixth in stirring fashion, Stuart Lancaster’s current crop in produced the seventh in magnificent style in 2012. Tries from Brad Barritt, Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi swept aside Richie McCaw’s side by a record margin, 38-21.

That result, dripping with breakdown intensity, solid set-piece and ice-cool decision-making, could be so critical for the belief that must transcend all that England do through the course of the three-Test series, which starts tomorrow.

“You’ve got to go over there and play, not leave anything in the locker, not be defensive and play at them,” hollers Rowntree. “We’ve got to counter their threats and go over there with confidence. You go over there with nothing to lose, I love going over there.”

And don’t leave the Land of the Long White Cloud wondering what might have been, that’s the advice of Dallaglio.

“The only way you get respect from New Zealand is going down there and beating them,” he added. “Of course New Zealand are a good side and England have to execute and play well on the day.

“But just go and beat them, go and have a go, find out how good you are against some of the best players in the world. And when you come off the pitch you might have surprised yourself.”