ABs take defeat on the chin
London - Laid low by a vomiting bug midweek, the mighty All Blacks were dealt another blow to the guts at Twickenham on Saturday by a lion-hearted England side who recorded their biggest victory over the world champions.
Although nothing meaningful was at stake, this 38-21 defeat hurt New Zealand's finest. You could sense it in their body language. You could see it in their eyes.
"They caught us on the hop," skipper Richie McCaw said at pitchside, matter of fact but slightly stunned. "It's bitterly disappointing. We struggled to get any sort of momentum and England played particularly well - credit to them.
"You're prepared for a big battle and that's the way it was, they caught us on the hop. It's disappointing but we'll be back another day."
A defeat had never been in the script. It was meant to be Dan Carter's day and a victorious sendoff for McCaw before he takes a six-month sabbatical.
New Zealand's last nine matches against England had resulted in All Black wins, and Carter had played in them all, averaging more than 18 points on his own.
At Twickenham he was meant to orchestrate a 10th, but was out-kicked by Owen Farrell, the English youngster nominated alongside Carter, McCaw and Frenchman Frederic Michalak for the International Rugby Board Player of the Year award.
"He missed a couple of kicks today he would have normally got, but that's what happens in sport sometimes," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen told reporters.
"This is sport and you have to accept it. We had 80 minutes to do our best but on this occasion we were beaten by a team who did better."
England performed the unthinkable. They made the All Blacks, a byword in fluidity and graceful power, appear hesitant, slow and stilted. Perhaps it was a combination of England's vigour and the virus which swept the Kiwi camp, but no All Black was looking for excuses.
"I felt fine in that department," McCaw said. "But we struggled to get into the game. We were put under pressure. It would have been nice to finish off with a performance to be proud of. We'll get over it. Once we get past the disappointment of today, the year hasn't been too bad really...
"There's no doubt there's some talent in that (England) team."
It was an extraordinary result. But most extraordinary of all was that there was nothing remotely fortuitous about the hosts' victory in front of 80 000 spell-bound rugby fans.
New Zealand headed into this match unbeaten in 20 games, chasing their own record of 23 set between 1987-90.
Between them their team had nearly 800 caps; 10 of their number had been capped 30 times or more.
England's XV contained just one player of that level of experience, and perhaps that was the secret. It seemed as if nobody had told this England team they were underdogs.
"I thought Stu and his crew were getting their team together," Hansen said. "The only issue they had was they didn't have many caps but maybe that helped them.
"We don't have an excuse, we just got beaten by a better team and we have to take that on the chin. England played some magnificent football.
"I find it interesting that everyone is surprised - this is a good England side and a good lesson for some people. You need to get out there and back them a bit. They have shown what they can do.
"What we saw tonight was a great England performance and an All Black side proud enough and strong enough to hang in there.
"Right now how do I feel? Disappointed."