Mark Wilson v Kieran Read
Man of the match last week, Mark Wilson has an altogether tougher challenge this week going up against one of the best No.8s in the world in Kieran Read.
Having come in for the injured Billy Vunipola, Wilson produced a strong performance from the back of the scrum getting through a mountain of work with his ball-carrying, work at the breakdown and tackling in a display that totally outshone his opposite number Warren Whiteley.
Having played to his strengths and negated Whiteley’s influence, Wilson will need to do the same this weekend albeit against a much more intimidating presence. Without doubt the first name on the team-sheet, All Blacks captain Read is his country’s talisman and one of the most dynamic back-row forwards to play the game. Another player with phenomenal work-rate and a great engine, it is Read’s prowess in attack that differentiates him from the rest, with the Crusaders No.8 often seen roaming the wide channels, boasting a deft handling game.
Read has had his injury problems this year and England will be hoping that he isn’t as sharp as usual at Twickenham, but Wilson will need to restrict his influence by matching his work-rate in the tackle area and at the breakdown whilst also ramping up his carrying game to produce a more dynamic performance in attack.
Elliot Daly v Damian McKenzie
A mouth-watering prospect for the neutrals as two of the games’ best runners go head-to-head.
Daly had something of a mixed bag against South Africa, struggling under the high ball (an area the All Blacks will likely target) and with his decision-making letting him down in attack. Despite that Daly put himself about against the Springboks creating some promising openings with his clever footwork and with his kicking prowess from long-range, his boot may be needed this weekend.
Having played most of his rugby this season from No.10, Damian McKenzie returns to full-back where he excelled for the All Blacks last season in the Rugby Championship and end-of-season tour. A fleet-footed runner with bags of pace, the diminutive McKenzie is a deadly runner in open field and the English must be wary when kicking to him of giving him space to run back at them. For someone so small in stature you might think that McKenzie’s weakness would be his defence and aerial prowess, yet when playing at full-back last season the Chiefs playmaker did well with his defensive work and positioning from the back of the field, although England will still look to exploit him under the high ball, especially considering his lack of rugby at full-back this season.
Ben Te’o v Sonny Bill Williams
Old foes reunite as the two former Rugby League stars meet in midfield once again.
Having played little rugby this season Te’o looked rusty against South Africa, unable to explode over the gain-line with his destructive ball-carrying or to put in big hits in defence.
Williams is one of New Zealand’s key players with his offloading game in particular crucial to the way his side attack. Much of New Zealand’s best play goes through the hands of Sonny Bill, and with his size and strength, like Te’o, he is a hard man to stop in full-flight.
Te’o will have fond memories of their last meeting in the first Lions test last year where he produced a thunderous ball-carrying performance and nullified the attacking threat of Williams with some big tackles that rendered the All Blacks 12 ineffective. If England are to get on top in this match they will need Te’o to punch holes in the New Zealand defence whilst keeping Williams from getting his offload game firing. The Worcester man should not lack motivation for this particular challenge.
Owen Farrell v Beauden Barrett
Another Lions battle resumes with two of the best playmakers in the game.
Farrell was crucial in last week’s win over South Africa and England’s talisman and co-captain will need to be at his best once again to lead England through a tough battle. With an expert kicking game – both from the tee and hand – Eddie Jones will want Farrell to play it smart in sticking England in the right areas of the field and having shown some brief glimpses of chemistry in attack with centre Henry Slade, link up with his midfield partners with his passing game.
Reigning world player of the year Barrett hasn’t had it all his own way this season and can be a tad unpredictable from 10. A virtuoso four-try haul against Australia a few weeks ago was followed by an erratic display against South Africa where some poor decision-making and dismal goal-kicking led to the Springboks stealing an overdue win. Barrett is a freakishly talented player who given time and space can really get an attack firing, but there remains a debate about whether he has every necessary attribute of an international 10, having been outplayed by South African Handre Pollard in recent matches.
Having experienced victory over New Zealand with both England and the Lions, Farrell knows what it takes to get over the line and his team-mates will look to him for guidance. A superior tactical 10 to Barrett, Farrell and the rest of England’s defence will look to put Barrett under pressure early on by being fast off the line and restricting the space he has to work with. New Zealand will naturally look to do the same to Farrell.
Ben Moon v Owen Franks
A tough baptism of fire for Exeter’s Ben Moon in just his second cap as he faces up to All Blacks centurion Owen Franks.
Moon deservedly comes in to start this weekend following an impressive second-half performance off the bench against South Africa where he made a real difference in the scrum and played his role in defence with numerous tackles.
Franks has been a stalwart of this All Blacks team for the best part of a decade and is one of the best scrummagers in the game whilst doing his bit around the park with his ball-carrying and tackling.
As with most test matches, the outcome in the scrums may be crucial in deciding the game’s outcome and Moon will need to carry the same impact as last week and then some to negate Franks in the front row, and perhaps as a result give Farrell opportunities from the kicking tee.
By Jon Davies
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