Grant Chapman: Five big things from the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup loss to England

OPINION: When New Zealand awakens from its Rugby World Cup nightmare on Sunday, the scoreboard will still read England 19 All Blacks 7.

This result wasn't just some nasty makebelieve. 

As they stumble into the kitchen for their first of many coffees - or perhaps something stronger - these are the flashbacks that will likely come flooding back to sports fans of a contest their beloved rugby team hardly ever really contested.

Sigh.

Facing down the haka

Way too much debate has taken place over the past few weeks over the appropriate way to nullify the All Blacks haka.

Surely there are better things for opponents to think about in the lead-up to such a high-stakes game… like how to actually win the game, not the pre-game. 

Most of us expected a deafening chorus of 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot', but the English players employed a novel approach, taking up a kind of reverse flying-V formation in centrefield.

Initially, the ends of the 'V' extended beyond the prescribed 10m mark and officials tried to force the English back.

But the haka seemed to proceed without further incident, unless you really think the England response threw the All Blacks off their game for the initial moments of the encounter.

Two minutes of hell

If you've ever seen the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, that's what the English produced in their first possession of this game - without the body count.

They ran hard and fast, and spread the ball from one side to the other, without even looking like they might resort to their traditional kicking game.

It was more like something you'd expect from an underdog with nothing to lose - like Namibia offered in pool play - except the minnows of world rugby usually fall away as the game progresses.

You'd expect England to hang a little tougher and they did.

All Blacks were falling off tackles all over the park and maybe they were still wondering about that flying V.

Grant Chapman: Five big things from the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup loss to England
Manu Tuilagi scores the only awarded try of the rugby World Cup semi
Manu Tuilagi scores the only awarded try of the rugby World Cup semi. Photo credit: Reuters.

But at the end of the full-on assault, they would have been happy at only seven points down. Remember, this time last year, New Zealand rallied from 15-0 down over the final 20 minutes to beat the same opponents.

The Barrett gambit

Coach Steve Hansen's decision to start regular lock Scott Barrett on the blindside flank was questioned during the lead-up and he treated those doubters with his usual disdain.

But remember, Hansen was the one who chose to play Sam Cane and Ardie Savea as dual opensides - largely successfully - throughout this campaign. Why would he second-guess himself like that?

And bear in mind, while Barrett had often come off the bench onto the side of the scrum, he had never worn the No.6 jersey into a test. There's a big difference between entering the fray with tired legs all around and starting when everyone's running at full speed.

You couldn't blame Barrett for his team's struggles through the first half, although he did miss two tackles early.

But England bullied the breakdown and you had to wonder whether that would have been possible, if Cane was on the field.

And Barrett never really pressured the England lineout, which was a major reason he was even there. Only captain Kieran Read came up with possession against the throw in the first half.

The middle brother of the All Black Barretts is a fine player and filled in admirably at lock, while Brodie Retallick was sidelined this season - but let's not experiment with this loose-forward selection again.

Thankfully, that substitution was made at the halftime break and within minutes, Cane forced a turnover - albeit conceding a costly penalty soon after.

England's no-tries

The margin of victory could so easily have been more - and probably should have been.

Late in the first half, flanker Sam Underhill seemed to have crossed for England's second try, but on review, his teammates were ruled to have run interference on the New Zealand defenders.

Frankly, the officials bailed the All Blacks out on that one. Sorry Keith Quinn, but If the same scenario had occurred in NRL, the bunker would have ruled that Sam Whitelock simply made a bad decision about which attacker to tackle.

If New Zealand had somehow managed to win this contest, that ruling might have been more contentious.

Ben Youngs celebrates his try - before it was disallowed
Ben Youngs celebrates his try - before it was disallowed. Photo credit: Photosport

The second disallowed try was far more clearcut, with the England pack knocking the ball forwards in a maul, before halfback Ben Youngs dived over.

The All Blacks also had a big call go against them, when the officials deliberated over an apparent no-arms tackle from Henry Slade on Sevu Reece. Replays suggested Slade at least tried to wrap an arm around his opponent, but was unable to complete the action, when Reece ran into his shoulder.

The game no-one wants to play

In the Olympics, a third-fourth playoff offers a shot at a bronze medal and vindication for years of preparation.

For the All Blacks, next Friday's game will offer absolutely no consolation for their inability to capture their third straight World Cup crown.

For some, the encounter will offer one last chance to pull on the jersey, before they step away from international rugby to chase some overseas coin and eventually retire.

Or Hansen, who will prepare the team for his final game as NZ coach, may elect to blood younger players for his successor (who may or may not now be assistant coach Ian Foster).

Steve Hansen and All Blacks after loss
"Any starters for this game on Friday? Anyone?" Photo credit: Reuters.

New Zealand have contested this game three times before, beating Scotland in 1991 and France in 2003, but losing to South Africa in 1999.

If nothing else, the outcome will decide how far this proud rugby nation falls down the IRB world rankings after this tournament.

That still counts for something, doesn't it?

Join us at 10pm Sunday for live updates of the second Rugby World Cup semi between South Africa and Wales.

Grant Chapman is Newshub's online sports editor.

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