All Blacks edge out home side in epic clash at Twickenham.
Stuart Lancaster said his England side could compete with the world’s best after their November campaign ended with a 30-22 defeat by New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday.
England, fresh from wins this month over Australia and Argentina, were bidding for back-to-back victories against world champions New Zealand after their record 38-21 success at Twickenham in last year’s corresponding clash.
Having been 17-3 down early on, England fought back gamely to lead 22-20 heading into Saturday’s final quarter before New Zealand, with wing Julian Savea scoring his second try, pulled away again in a match where All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read also crossed the Red Rose try-line.
England are not in action again until they face France in Paris in the opening round of the 2014 Six Nations in February.
“The message to the players is we cannot allow those standards to slip in the next couple of months when we meet again to face France,” Lancaster told reporters after an enthralling encounter.
England scored a lone try through lock Joe Launchbury but it was fly-half Owen Farrell, with a perfect goal-kicking display in landing five penalties and a conversion, who piled on the points to give the hosts hope of what would have been only their eighth win in 36 Tests against the All Blacks.
“If you went into the England dressing room, we are desperately disappointed to have lost to a team that has been unbeaten all season,” said Lancaster of a New Zealand side who are just one match away, against Ireland in Dublin next week, from returning a perfect played 14, won 14, record for the calendar year.
England will host the 2015 World Cup and Lancaster, asked if they could also lift the Webb Ellis Trophy, added: “We don’t talk in those terms.
“We talk about belief in building a team. When you are putting the jigsaw together of building a team we are definitely moving in the right direction.
“It’s been about winning here and now but also building the team to win in 2015 and that is our aim.
“We were sixth in the world when we started, third in the world now, pushing second where I think we should be.
“That was the stated aim by the end of this season. We’ve got the Six Nations to go, a summer tour to New Zealand and if we keep progressing that should be achievable,” he insisted.
England will play the All Blacks four times in 2014, with three of those Tests in New Zealand, and backs coach Andy Farrell said: “I’m made up about that. We need as much experience as we can.
“But I’m absolutely gutted for the players, gutted and proud as punch, especially of the forward pack because they worked their socks off, mauling New Zealand to death really,” added Farrell, Owen’s father.
“We just lacked a bit of continuity towards the end, two exits that went wrong for us, a couple of line-outs that went astray and suddenly continuity was slipping a bit.
“That’s the reason we have a dejected changing room. The boys felt they deserved a bit more.”
England No.8 Billy Vunipola, with several charging runs and inside centre Billy Twelvetrees, who showed signs of becoming the ball-playing midfielder England have long craved, were both singled out for praise by Lancaster.
“The two Billys, for me, were exceptional,” said the coach. “Vunipola in only his third start at Twickenham shows what a force he is going to be in the rugby world. Twelvetrees, after having a disappointing Test against Australia, had an outstanding game.”