Date: Saturday 6th of November
Kick off: 14:30
So much hype has been surrounding the England squad following their win against Australia on their summer tour, but one victory does not mean anything if it is not the foundation for future success. Victory against New Zealand would be huge; both in terms of belief going into next year’s Rugby World Cup and for the rest of the Investec internationals. Several young guns like Ben Youngs, Courtney Lawes and Chris Ashton will be making their Twickenham debuts, and plenty of supporters’ hopes are resting on these players having an impact, but this a lot to ask against the All Blacks.
The task facing Martin Johnson’s men is a mammoth one. New Zealand on any day are the best side in the world, but a wounded All Black side following last week’s defeat to Australia in Hong Kong makes them even more ominous. They also seem to relish this fixture: something about Twickenham brings out the best in any New Zealand side, particularly the King at number 10, Dan Carter. Rookie Sonny Bill Williams comes in for Conrad Smith to join Ma’a Nonu in the centres, and with one or two other changes to the side, there are suggestions that the All Blacks are not short of confidence ahead of this fixture.
What to expect:
New Zealand to try and reinforce their billing as the best team in the world. Whilst they may have lost last week, it was in the 81st minute that they conceded, and it was not as though they were thrashed by the Wallabies. Carter’s presence is crucial: the All Blacks’ capitulation and Carter’s absence from the pitch was not a mere coincidence. Much of the talk from their camp during the week has been about how they will play with width, and following various misjudged comments from the England camp about the Tri-Nations ‘not being Test rugby’, they’ll be keen to teach England a lesson.
The English game plan appears to be the opposite; to play it through the forwards and try and take the All Blacks on in the set piece. Andrew Sheridan’s selection is crucial for this to be a success, and if England can gain the upper hand in the scrum, then they could gain valuable field position or shots at goal for Toby Flood. It is a big “if” though, because Owen Franks is no mug at tighthead. There are also plenty of lineout options with the inclusion of Tom Croft at 6, and Lawes and Tom Palmer will attempt to put pressure on the All Blacks’ throw to limit their supply of possession. The absence of a playmaker at 12 is a concern though as England have great attacking threats in the back three, but whether they will ever get the ball is questionable.
All eyes on:
Northampton young gun Courtney Lawes. If he follows Simon Shaw’s example, Lawes could play for England for the next 16 years. Richie McCaw and Kieran Read seemed to have little knowledge of who he was in the build-up this week, so he may give them a nasty surprise if runs at them one on one in the loose. He is essential to England’s prospects in the lineout, and the presence of Croft, Palmer and Nick Easter should help to relieve some of the pressure on him and allow him to unleash his natural talents. He is a remarkable athlete, and hopefully will rise to the challenge.
For the All Blacks, all the hype has been around the debut of Sonny Bill Williams at outside centre. Everything about him is impressive; his stature, the fact he is the first Kiwi to play both League and Union at international level in 15 years, and that he has made the All Blacks side without playing a game of Super Rugby. Of concern to England will be the fact that his strength and size do not seem to hinder his quick feet and ability to offload.
Head to head: Lewis Moody v Richie McCaw
Two captains, two world class number 7s. Despite a rather nasty eye injury, Moody has recovered in time to lead out England on Saturday, and this provides a huge boost for the team. He gives everything, regardless of personal safety, and as a captain his actions are more than enough to inspire his team-mates without using any words. The back row has a better balance with Moody’s inclusion, and will need to be at its best as they face the stongest unit in the world.
McCaw’s accolades are numerous and richly deserved, but last week he showed a side of his game that people often forget. In the build up to Ma’a Nonu’s try he rampaged up the right hand side of the pitch, taking four Wallabies with him, reminding us of his ability to carry as well as his much-discussed habit of slowing down opposition ball at the breakdown. Expect him to raise his game yet again as he looks to notch another win at Twickenham.
Last year’s result: 21st November 2009 – England 6-19 New Zealand.
Weather forecast: No rain forecast, sunny and cloudy conditions. Maybe we’ll see some running rugby?
Prediction: In my view, England’s self-belief following the win against Australia is a touch naïve, given the extent to which that Wallaby side was under-strength and the fact that Matt Giteau missed a sitter to win the game. New Zealand have made changes across the board but that hasn’t greatly affected the quality of their side, and with Carter, Nonu and now Williams in midfield, they could simply have too much power and cutting edge. New Zealand by 15.
Insider view: Danny Care – on the bench on Saturday – caught up with Nick Heath this week to share his views on how the game will go.
How do you think the game will unfold? Can England cause an upset?
By Ben Coles (@bennycoles)