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Running, passing game bears fruit for All Blacks

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Lynn McConnell     14 Jun 2014     Getty Images

It was produced as the All Blacks moved out of a grim era of 10-man rugby revolving around lineouts and kicks to touch.

The result was a realisation that New Zealand had the capability to play a much more attractive style of game.

Now England have adopted a similar approach and the result was in evidence in the 28-27 Test match and Steinlager series win for the All Blacks in Dunedin on Saturday night.

The rugby as a consequence is much more exciting, the contest is a more thrilling spectacle and the game is set to go places.

England, as newcomers to the style in their most recent vintage, will take time to adapt. Coach Stuart Lancaster won't mind that once the pain of the series loss dissipates.

But the advantage New Zealand has in having adopted that 'running, passing game' approach so long ago is that at least two or three generations of rugby players have grown up with the notion of playing in a confident manner with ball in hand no matter what position they play. And it shows out in close matches more often then not.

When the All Blacks needed to lift the tempo of the game to put distance between themselves and England on Saturday, they did so with genuine class and confidence across the Park. Everyone looked as if they knew what was required.

Sure England ended up within a point, but their last minute try was a token in the context of this game, and for long periods they lacked the clarity New Zealand enjoyed.

The ability to play such an up tempo game demands superior fitness and athleticism and it has to be said of the two units at the moment the All Blacks look more like athletes. That is not to say that will assure them of a clean sweep in the series, or even a victory at Twickenham later in the year, or even next year in the Rugby World Cup.

But fitness means a greater chance of assuredness and clear thinking in tighter moments of matches. That was evident in Auckland when they put their faith in their skills, and it was clear to see in Dunedin.

Familiarity is another factor and because they have had to secure close victories so often in the past they know that patience can be a virtue in such instances.

England came to New Zealand to learn, and they have learnt plenty so far. They have some exciting players. Mike Brown at fullback was assured, Marland Yarde is a handful on the wing, Manu Tuilagi has the potential to be explosive while Chris Robshaw has emerged as a quality leader and the locks Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling and Courtney Lawes are combative while their front row of Joe Marler, Rob Webber and David Wilson are gutsy performers.

What this group of England players have shown is that the world game is going to be much better for this series and the margin has closed between the top and those below.

However, under the pressure of their coaching staff, first and foremost, and from the great New Zealand public, that stadium of four and a half million, the All Blacks lifted their game to remove the high error rate of last week. There was much greater clarity in the set pieces and there was more purpose in back play.

Julian Savea did make a difference on the wing, Ma'a Nonu showed he is still a commanding influence as a mid-field bulwark while Conrad Smith is such a smooth achiever in the centres. But when you can replace Israel Dagg with Ben Smith who plays such a superb game, and who continually makes ground, you have some special players to call on.

On top of that, and remembering two of the best players in the world are still to rejoin the side in Dan Carter and Kieran Read, you have the sight of Richie McCaw demonstrating his continuing class with a strong display in the loose, backed up by a more prominent Liam Messam and Jerome Kaino.

Expect more improvement from England in Hamilton, but there is also still more to come from the home side.