England's win over New Zealand gives Stuart Lancaster World Cup hopes

England Flag

The pool draw for the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be conducted in the Tate Modern this afternoon, an appropriate venue in which to contemplate England's startling weekend masterpiece.

Rarely, if ever, has this ancient black and white contest seen such vivid splashes of colour, transforming a previously drab autumn canvas. If sporting excellence qualifies as art, this was as fine an exhibition as anything seen in south-west London for a decade or more.

Suddenly all the world's leading teams will be scrambling to avoid the revitalised hosts, rather than the other way round. Stuart Lancaster's side could yet draw New Zealand and Wales but any hint of an inferiority complex has disappeared. If a young England team with only 200-odd caps can secure both a record score and margin of victory over a top-class All Black combination, what on earth might they achieve with three more years of collective Test experience?

It is this spirit of renewed optimism around the country that will delight Lancaster and his coaches as much as anything. The world champions will surely be back, forewarned and refocused, but their aura has been punctured by their heaviest defeat to a northern hemisphere rival in history. If it is too soon to describe England as world-beaters, there is now no doubt that, under Lancaster's calm stewardship, they are heading in the right direction.

Now the disappointing, narrow defeats by Australia and South Africa can be framed in a more progressive context. It is only four years since England, in the early days of Martin Johnson's managerial era, faced their three big southern hemisphere foes in the same order and lost by an aggregate score of 102-26. If you had told New Zealanders a week ago they would be blown away by an England team playing with All Black style, clarity, commitment and self-belief, they would have diagnosed a severe case of delusion.

So what happened? For all Richie McCaw's magnanimous praise for the victors, his team were barely recognisable from the side which had previously been unbeaten for 20 Tests. The virus that laid low many of the tour party last week must have had some effect but not one New Zealander used that as an excuse. To do so would have been to underplay the inroads England made at the breakdown, the pressure exerted by their defensive line speed and the mistakes made by normally impeccable performers such as Dan Carter and Conrad Smith.

The easy gag that McCaw's six-month sabbatical began at half-time also dissolves under serious scrutiny. Having allowed New Zealand back to within a point after leading 15-0 early in the second half, England could easily have folded. Instead they hit back harder, Brad Barritt ripping through the gap left by Smith's assumption the ball would go wide and exchanging high-speed passes with Manu Tuilagi. When Tuilagi then brushed aside Carter and McCaw to set up Chris Ashton for his first Test try in 14 months, it was further proof of the strength of character Lancaster and his coaches have worked so hard to instil. In the circumstances no one could blame Ashton for his theatrical "splash" finish; days like these have to be celebrated.

It has helped England that their best pack is now emerging. Joe Launchbury, Tom Wood, Ben Morgan and Alex Corbisiero were all absent from the starting XV against Australia; their transparent hunger and intensity has made a huge difference. If Lancaster could go back and amend one selection this autumn, he would probably promote Launchbury from the bench for the Wallaby game. The 21-year-old Wasps lock looks a major find, making silly old Hectors of those who insist kids never win you anything. Talented ones will.

It makes the upcoming Six Nations even more fascinating. By then England will have Dylan Hartley, Tom Croft and Ben Foden available again, as well as a fully-fit Courtney Lawes. If Lancaster also readjusts his elite player squad in January to include Gloucester's Freddie Burns and Billy Twelvetrees, he will have the best of all worlds: a tight-knit group with rising self-belief, a committed defence and a sprinkling of attacking x-factor.

This was the first time the All Blacks have been kept scoreless in the first half of a Test match since July 1998 as well as, remarkably, their second-worst defeat by anyone since 1928. The trick now is to ensure that this result was more than just a bolt from a clear blue winter's sky. Two years ago everybody thought Johnson's England had found the key to lasting happiness when they blitzed Australia 35-18, only to be disappointed. There is a more grounded feel this time; within moments of the final whistle the captain, Chris Robshaw, had gathered his players together and told them he expected more of the same when they launch their Six Nations campaign against Scotland in early February. Not the least part of Lancaster's success has been extracting a higher level of dynamism and ambition from players who too often have those qualities smashed out of them in the Premiership.

The British & Irish Lions selectors will also have looked on with interest. Positive-minded players in a successful side are always worth a look and trumping Carter has added further credence to Owen Farrell's nomination for this year's International Player of the Year Award. "He's gone head-to-head against Dan Carter and come out on top," observed Lancaster. "Owen's got big-match temperament and he demonstrated it again today. He controlled the game."

The abiding memory of this autumn, though, will not be Farrell's 17 points nor England's stadium-rocking third try by Tuilagi following his interception of Kieran Read's pass. It will be the expressions on English faces as their team lifted the Hillary Shield for the first time, juxtaposed with the aghast faces of New Zealanders trying to come to terms with the unthinkable.

For Kiwis this was the rugby equivalent of discovering a dead sheep in a tank of formaldehyde, with Lancaster suddenly the new Damien Hirst. To say that the World Cup draw now has an additional frisson is to put it mildly.

England Goode; Ashton, Tuilagi (Joseph, 67), Barritt, Brown; Farrell (Burns , 64), B Youngs (Care, 68); Corbisiero (Vunipola, 66), T Youngs (Paice, 72), Cole (Wilson, 72), Launchbury (Lawes, 67), Parling, Wood, Robshaw (capt), Morgan (Haskell, 57).

Tries Barritt, Ashton, Tuilagi. Con Farrell. Pens Farrell 4, Burns 2. Drop goal Farrell.

Sin-bin Vunipola (74).

New Zealand Dagg (B Smith, 71); Jane, C Smith, Nonu, Savea; Carter (Cruden, 64), A Smith (Weepu, 64); Woodcock (Crockett, 67), Mealamu (Coles, 62), O Franks (Faumuina, 52), Retallick (Romano, 48), Whitelock, Messam (Vito, 63), McCaw (capt), Read.

Tries Savea 2, Read. Cons Carter 2, Cruden.

Referee G Clancy (Ireland). Attendance 82,000.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Robert Kitson at Twickenham, for The Guardian on Sunday 2nd December 2012 22.06 Europe/London

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