The visit of the New Zealand All Blacks to face England at Twickenham is always a prospect to be savoured. One of the rarest fixtures in the rugby calendar, this was the All Blacks first visit to Twickenham since 2018 and only the third time England had faced them during Eddie Jones’ six-year tenure as coach.
Often regarded as the yardstick by which to be measured, meeting the All Blacks is the ultimate challenge in world rugby and despite having lost four times this year, the men from ‘the land of the long white cloud’ had more than enough ability and firepower to derail England’s Autumn campaign.
The sense of occasion could be felt from the moment the doors of The Green Room swung open. An evening kick off, a night under the lights and the anticipation ahead of an intriguing on-field encounter ahead…all the ingredients required for a fantastic atmosphere.
Adding to The Green Room spice were Lawrence Dallaglio, Ben Kay and Will Greenwood who were joined by fellow 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Phil Vickery and former England full back Ben Foden. We also enlisted the services of none other than legendary Kiwi counterpart Andrew Mehrtens, who joined the boys on stage to regale stories of the infamous 1995 Rugby World Cup Final, his experiences playing against England and what it was like to play with the one and only Jonah Lomu.
Dabbling with ingredients was also our Michelin star chef Ollie Dabbous who concocted a feast fit for any hungry rugby fan. With a menu that included tender beef cheek with wet polenta, wild mushrooms, Swiss chard & red wine gravy followed by a nostalgic banana and custard tart, those spotted enjoying the gastronomic goodies and one or two glasses of Bollinger were none other than comedy superstar Jack Whitehall, Duran Duran lead singer Simon Le Bon and musician of Wham fame Andrew Ridgeley.
Having heard from our rugby icons, enjoyed one or two glasses and dined on some fantastic fodder, the mood shifted into match mode. Eager to get to their seats in readiness to witness The Haka, guests piled out of The Green Room to witness this unique spectacle in rugby.
Greeting them was a cauldron of noise – a cacophony of pyrotechnics and pumping bass tones complimented perfectly with lasers and strobe lights. Twickenham was bouncing and as The Haka commenced, the chorus of Swing Low Sweet Chariot could have been heard all the way in Canterbury or Christchurch.
Challenge laid down and readily accepted – the whistle blew and the game was underway. Ferocious physicality and a fast-pace from the start, it was the All Blacks who pounced first. An opportunistic intercept from flanker Dalton Papali’i gave them their first try, Codie Taylor then burrowed over from close range before Rieko Ioane finished off a scintillating break from their own half. After 40 minutes and the score 22-6 in favour of the visitors, England fans had reason to feel deflated. After all, never in their history had the All Blacks surrendered a half time lead of this magnitude.
Other than a couple of penalties from the boot of Marcus Smith and a drop goal from NZ’s Beauden Barrett, the second half ticked by with little incident and with just 10 minutes to go and the score 25-6 a comeback did not look likely. That was until Will Stuart dotted down after 72 minutes to make the score 25-11 and with that, it was like the handbrake had been lifted. Full back Freddie Steward then finished off a wonderful move to make the score 25-18 and with no time left on the clock, substitute prop Stuart was able to barrel his way over to score an unlikely second try. Marcus Smith added the conversion to make the scores 25-25 and England escaped with a draw after a quite stunning comeback.
There’s a saying in sport that ‘if you can’t win, don’t lose’ and fans around the stadium were more than happy with the result after what had looked like a convincing All Black victory. As was confirmed by our rugby legends post-match, salvaging a draw from that position against one of the best sides in the world was no mean feat and still sets England up well for a showdown with the Springboks in the final game of the Autumn Internationals next week.
After a true nailbiter against New Zealand, can England end November with a win against the world champions in what is our final Green Room at Twickenham in 2022?