Just when it seemed as though the year had exhausted its store of wonders, Twickenham coughed up one last miracle. England's 38-21 win over the All Blacks not only upset the biggest favourites since Frankel but brought Stuart Lancaster's squad so much in terms of self-belief that it becomes immediately tempting to speculate on where its consequences might lead.
In front of their astonished and hugely gratified supporters, the damsons in distress of two weeks ago were transformed into the white knights. Solid in every area of the field and outstanding in several of them, they provided resounding answers to all the questions that had been asked since the first bloom faded from the cheeks of Lancaster's new regime.
Many of those Twickenham regulars had paid to watch a rather hollow victory over Fiji followed by narrow but nevertheless dispiriting defeats at the hands of the Wallabies and the Springboks. They will feel that a victory over New Zealand eclipses everything, particularly since this was not a backs-to-the-wall affair achieved with gritted teeth and bloodied brows but one brought off with notable conviction and, when it counted, more than a little panache.
Among a host of impressive individual performances, it was inevitable that the post-match spotlight would fall on Chris Robshaw. At the start of this year's Six Nations tournament the Harlequin became the 12th man to have captained England since Martin Johnson's retirement after the 2003 World Cup, and he spent much of last week listening to criticisms of his fateful decision-making against the Springboks.
On Saturday there were no such moments of crisis; instead the entire 80 minutes spoke well of his ability to keep his men organised and moving in the right direction. In direct opposition to the great Richie McCaw, he suffered not at all from the comparison.
"No one had given us a chance," Robshaw said. "People were saying, 'What are NZ going to beat them by?' But all week we were quietly confident. We kept ourselves to ourselves. We focused on our process, on attention to detail, all these kind of things. The phone was ringing with messages of support. Of course we had a bit of luck with the bounce of the ball and you need that when you're playing the world champions."
They had learnt a particularly important lesson, he said, against Australia. "We were a bit naive there. We thought they were going to play a wide kind of game but they slowed it down and they did it well. After that we had a big focus on rucking effectively. Today we were playing against one of the best players in the world in his ability to turn over the ball and we were under no illusions about how hard that was going to be.
"A team that haven't lost in 20 games don't lie down easily. When they came out in the second half and scored two quick tries, it was like, 'Come on, guys, let's make sure we lock this one out.' We'd gone out there and got an early penalty and we thought that potentially it was going to take care of itself.
"But our defence had slipped off a bit and they got some quick ball, they got over the gain line, they were beating us around the corner and we were a little bit sloppy. We had to make sure the defence was where it had been in the first half. We had a word with ourselves."
It is too early to say whether the 25-year-old Robshaw will be an improvement on Martin Corry, Phil Vickery, Steve Borthwick and Lewis Moody, the four post-Johnson captains who held the job on a permanent basis. A young man in charge of a young team, he may be one of those lucky enough to come along when the right blend of ingredients is being assembled. During the coming Six Nations we shall learn if he is capable of putting the experiences of his first year in charge to good use.
His opposite number could not have been more gracious. McCaw was in no doubt that he and his team had been well beaten by a better side on the day. There were no excuses about tiredness at the end of a long season. To emphasise that the virus which had laid low some of his team-mates earlier in the week had not drained their competitive energy, he pointed out that the All Blacks had finished the afternoon strongly.
If the most eye-popping facet of England's achievement was the way they responded – with a hat-trick of tries in what seemed like the twinkling of an eye – to the surge from their vastly more battle-hardened opponents early in the second half, perhaps the most impressive was the consistency and seriousness of their effort.
"Today we stuck to our processes," Robshaw said. "Everyone knew their job, whether it was to hit the ruck or run certain lines." It was exactly the kind of thing you might expect to hear from the All Blacks and, despite the dazzling scores from Brad Barritt, Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi, in some ways England were at their finest when they were at their least spectacular, controlling the game and awaiting their opportunity.
"It was probably a little bit boring to watch at times," the outstanding Ben Youngs said afterwards. "It wasn't? Oh. Good."
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