Take Five: The big talking points after the All Blacks’ draw with England

ANALYSIS: The All Blacks have finished the year with a record of eight wins, four losses and a draw after a 25-25 thriller against England.

A disappointing finish undid much of their good work earlier in the test – and showed how deep you need to dig to beat a side like England, who thrive on momentum.

Here are the big talking points after the Twickenham test.

READ MORE:
* ‘They threw it away’: UK media react to All Blacks’ dramatic draw with England
* Nine minutes of despair: All Blacks’ Twickenham meltdown sums up sub-par season
* All Blacks coach Ian Foster upbeat despite ‘yuck’ result against England
* All Blacks player ratings: Brodie Retallick stars but bench struggles against England
* All Blacks concede three late tries against England in drawn test
* Recap: England roar back to earn a 25-25 draw with 14-man All Blacks at Twickenham

World rugby is a traffic jam at the top, but All Blacks are inching forward

There is no chance of any team bursting clear of the five-strong pack at the top of the rankings and establishing themselves as clear favorites for the Rugby World Cup. France occupy that position in many peoples’ minds, but they needed a slice of fortune to beat the Wallabies and South Africa in recent weeks. Ireland, missing the injured Johnny Sexton, struggled to break down the Wallabies in Dublin after the All Blacks-England test. Standards have risen across the board, and All Blacks fans must accept they have no preordained right to sit above the crowd – and that there can still be positives from a draw at Twickenham. And there was a clear one: the All Blacks’ starting tight five is now capable of being successful in France. Thats a big shift from recent years.

Bench rethink required

The progress outlined above shouldn’t stop the All Blacks from taking a critical look at how they set up their bench. Fletcher Newell’s energy was conspicuous by its absence of him at Twickenham as England replacement prop Will Stuart was helping himself to two tries. The All Blacks have shown plenty of faith in Nepo Laulala, but there is a question mark about whether it has been rewarded. Similarly, Hoskins Sotutu and David Havili were named on the bench but only used lightly – eight minutes and one minute, respectively. What were their roles before the test started? England had been picking up a head of steam even before Beauden Barrett’s costly yellow card. A punchy prop, loose forward and midfielder or winger are needed next year.

Richie Mo'una and Beauden Barrett tackle Marcus Smith in the incident that led to Barrett's crucial yellow card.

David Rogers/Getty Images

Richie Mo’una and Beauden Barrett tackle Marcus Smith in the incident that led to Barrett’s crucial yellow card.

Papalii is the form No 7

The All Blacks could get too cute with Dalton Papalii next year – designate him that role of impact loose forward to make way for Sam Cane at No 7. But, that would be hard on the Blues man, who has been excellent in the black jersey for the past two years. Papalii and Ardie Savea are a nightmare for opponents – the breakdown threat they posed changed the way Eddie Jones selected his England team – and they have probably been worth 20 points over the past two tests in the number of tries they have prevented by key steals on the ground.

The Caleb Clarke conundrum

The All Blacks winger is brilliant with ball in hand, but there is work to be done on his game without it. Defensively, he has had some issues this year but you would also love to see him up his involvement rate when the All Blacks go direct. The All Blacks’ forwards have proved capable of punching some real holes in defenses – if Clarke can get himself in and around the ruck in support he could be unstoppable. He’s capable of it – he showed that against the Springboks in South Africa – but he has been quiet over the past three tests.

Tyrel Lomax’s coming of age

England No 1 Ellis Genge is a bull – and rightly rated as one of the best looseheads in the northern hemisphere. However, Lomax did a job on him at Twickenham: he dominated him at scrum time on a number of occasions and you don’t often see the England scrum go backwards like that. It’s easy to forget that Lomax was hauled off at 33 minutes against the Waratahs in Super Rugby Pacific, such were the flow of scrum penalties and free kicks against his side. It has been a massive turnaround since then – he’s now the anchor of the All Blacks’ scrum.

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