Key Clash Preview and Prediction: England v New Zealand

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How is it that you can beat a team one year, and then a year later you face that same team and find even fewer people believing you will win? That is the situation England are in this weekend, as New Zealand are back in town. Almost twelve months on from an astonishing win at Twickenham, can England channel that spirit and do it again? Few people seem to think so, primarily because that game has not, as it turns out, been the rule – it has been the exception. While the All Blacks have blown away all before them since then, England, despite plenty of ticks in the ‘W’ column, seem to have taken a few steps backward, and for whatever reason have not played with as much intensity or physicality since. This weekend, they need to return to that level if they are even to compete.

England

The faith has been kept with the men that defeated Argentina last weekend. If that means the team that played the first 40 minutes shows up, then England might have a chance. If, however, it’s the team that played the second half, they will be destroyed, as New Zealand are the masters of taking their chances when applying pressure.

The back three have a big role to play, as New Zealand do like to kick the ball. This is part of the reason why Foden has been drafted in on the wing – his positional play and ability under the high ball make him a sensible choice. Shorn of the duo that so terrorised the All Blacks last year, Twelvetrees and Tomkins in the centres must play more comfortably together than they have done thus far, and Farrell must not be afraid to attack the gain-line more. This is an issue that has been done to death, but it is never truer than against New Zealand – if you sit back and kick too much ball away, they will punish you.

In the front row Dan Cole returns in place of David Wilson, and has a big role to play. The All Blacks’ scrummaging is not one of their weapons, and if Cole and Marler can get on top and win some penalties then England will have a vital source of points and territory. Courtney Lawes rightly gets the nod over Geoff Parling, and will be tasked with smashing Dan Carter into next week, and putting him off his game. If you rattle Carter, you rattle New Zealand.

New Zealand

When you break it down, there is nothing out of this world about the New Zealand team. What sets them apart is their ruthless execution of the basics, and ability to do the right thing at the right time. That comes from an innate self-belief within the players that they are the best, and that they will get it right when it matters.

If England are looking for a weakness, they will be hard-pressed to find one. The absence of Conrad Smith is a (self-inflicted) blow, and Ben Smith, brilliant player as he is, is not an out-and-out centre. He hasn’t recreated his form from the wing there, and it is a fantastic chance for Tomkins to show what he can do in attack. Dan Carter wins his 100th cap and will want to celebrate the milestone with the kind of majestic performance he is capable of, but that have become increasingly rare as he enters the twilight of his career.

In the pack Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are the best second row partnership in world rugby – it is sickening to think they are still only 22 and 25 respectively. Kieran Read is the most complete number eight around, and probably the best player currently on the international scene, and flanking him McCaw and Messam complete a fearsome back row.

All eyes on

With the All Blacks’ kicking game so strong, huge responsibility falls on the shoulders of Mike Brown. He often tops the stats for metres made, and while the time allowed him at fullback undoubtedly skews this, his innate understanding of space is also a huge factor. More often than not, when a kick goes up – be it an up and under or a chip over the top – Brown is there to tidy up or challenge in the air. Against the most accurate kicking team in the world, Brown’s appreciation of space will be vital.

For the All Blacks, Ma’a Nonu is the heartbeat of the midfield. Far from the bosh-merchant he used to be, Nonu is now equal parts rapier and wrecking ball. His ability to chip or grubber the ball into space in the corner is unparalleled, while his distribution is now excellent. Of course, he is still a hugely powerful runner, and Billy Twelvetrees, after being bounced off by Matt Toomua earlier this autumn, will have to ensure his defensive efforts are up to scratch.

Head to head: Richie McCaw v Chris Robshaw/Tom Wood

So much of England’s victory last season came from the immense physicality England’s back-row duo brought to the breakdown. If they are to have any chance of recreating that win, Robshaw and Wood must again combine to blow Richie McCaw away in the tackle area, not allowing him the time to do what he does best and get over the ball. McCaw himself will be desperate to right the wrong of last year, the only blot on his copybook for a very long time.

Prediction

Surely lightning won’t strike twice? England have looked sub-par this autumn, but then they looked even worse coming into the game last year. A huge rise in intensity and execution is needed, if they are even to keep up with a team that has set such high standards this year. If their back-row can bring the same physicality as last season, and the backs make the most of the platform it allows them by attacking the space, then England will have a chance. It’s almost impossible to see it happening again though. New Zealand by 10.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

15 thoughts on “Key Clash Preview and Prediction: England v New Zealand

  1. One slight thing in England’s favour here is that I think Eng (similar only to SA) think they can always beat NZ. There’s something about England that, despite results to the contrary, makes them think they’ll win every match they play. This isn’t calling them arrogant – on the contrary, this is a good attribute for a rugby team to have.

    Even with that though I think that NZ will still win relatively (more than a score) comfortably. Hopefully will be a cracking match though. I would love to see some sort of response to the bore-fest (I’m in trouble now) that “The HAKA!!!” has become but IRB rules expressly forbid anything but subservience now to that that pre-match warm up for NZ.

    1. Self-belief and arrogance are closely related, but not identical. One only needs to look at the All Blacks themselves to realise this- while their fans run the gamut, the players themselves (unfortunate and rare exceptions like Zac Guildford aside) are packed with self belief, but remain humble. That’s what Lancaster has introduced to this England side, and he’s managed to eliminate the arrogance that usually accompanies it. An achievement worth celebrating no matter how well the team does- and they’ve not done badly. I’d be happy with a loss tomorrow if England play like they’ve nothing to lose. After all, they do.

    2. No problem with the haka but as you say Brighty, big problems with the IRB’s insistence that everyone treats it as reverently as they would a visit from the Pope

      Mind you, the ABs don’t help themselves. Remember when they refused to do the Haka and sulked in their dressing room because the Welsh wanted to sing their anthem afterwards?

      I hope that Twickenham follows the lead of last year, when the singing of Swing Low was so deafening that you couldn’t hear the haka at all. That set the tone for the rest of the match

      1. Yeah, I used to be fine with the haka until they turned it into a strict event that everyone had to respond to in their agreed way or it was “disrespecting their tradition”. It was this complete lack of awareness of another countries traditions that grated on me. That Welsh response you mention was incredibly important for the Welsh – the pompous Kiwi’s totally ignored the fact that we have a history as well and our response to the the haka in 1905 was a pivotal moment in our establishment as a country rather than just an English county. Very important and they just disrespected the whole thing. Still annoys me now that they took issue with us remembering this moment in our own way in our own stadium.

        1. The haka is a bit of a hypocritical event. Aren’t they calling up the warrior spirits of those before them and laying own the challenge. Hardly laying down a challenge when the challengers can’t challenge the bloody thing. Surely a challenge without challengers isn’t? No disrespect but it’s a bit of a dance routine now. I think the too many suites have gotten in there and changed too much now.

    3. I think that’s every team really. You have to at least believe you can win it. England are a very organized team, as well as having plenty of quality players. They are difficult to break down.

  2. I think this game could be closer than people think…although I have the good old english pessimism that won’t allow me to believe we can win! The bench is where its at for me, if the starting 15 can bring the required heat to the battle then the replacements will have a real opportunity. If only we had some real pace and creativity on the bench instead of Goode!!

  3. Think the aggressive nature of England’s defence and breakdown work will keep this contest very close – however, I don’t see the comfort with one another outside the pack being good enough and therefore the execution to allow England to take chances and win this game.

    They took all their opportunities last year and that was the difference.

    Inexperienced team v, the world’s most experienced – NZ by 7

  4. Think the scoreline will look comfortable for NZ (14 points) but it will not be a comfortable match. England’s defence, line speed and collective work at the ruck will cause problems but ultimately the lack of cutting edge, pace and skill in the backline will prove the difference.

  5. English pack will make it a close game in everything bar the scoreboard as NZ ruthlessly take their chances and we can’t take ours. Two scores in it for me.

    I think that the kiwis will have been working on our strengths from last time around and will have more players flooding into the breakdown. Means it won’t be such a fluent game from them but they still have too much class not to score more points.

    Having said all of this, I was actually more pessimistic last year and it didn’t turn out too bad, so who knows!

    I think the comments above are certainly correct in that the old English arrogance has been channelled more into self belief by SL, and fortunately as we have a decent record of competing with the SH sides and beating them on regularish occasions, there are enough players around the squad who do know what it is like to win against them and know that it is not only possible but on any given day something that they should do.

    Looking forward to the game, although not expecting a win.

  6. Agree with Brighty regarding the haka.It is done on invitation not by right( until the IRB insisted that we all knelt and bowed our heads) and the Welsh were perfectly in their rights that day.The fact is that other Unions should of backed them up on this.

    1. I agree that placing the Haka on a pedestal has devalued it and rendered it inappropriate. Of course the Anglo-Welsh have the perfect response available to them; a much older and at least as culturaly important a trradition. If the two fingered salute was appropriate for the French at Agincourt and the Scotts at Poitiers and hundreds of other ‘matches’ then surely the Kiwis and the IRB couldn’t possibly object to it as a response could they? really?

  7. In NZ secondary schools we are FORCED to learn the haka whether it be the traditional ‘kamate’ or an original from the school you attend. Senior ‘rugby heads’ pupils force this on you by bashing you if you don’t learn and obey. How does a tradition start? By force is what we learned. Rugby is engrained into nz society and your a wimp if you don’t play it or a bit of an outcast if you don’t support it. Nice to see the All Blacks lose. GO ENGLAND!!

  8. Good to have a Kiwi on our side Don!
    I do think the AB’s overstep themselves at times. They were handed the last WC final by the ref, and McCaw ungraciously omitted any mention of the French team in his post match interview- one of many arrogant moments in recent times.
    On the other hand, they are a superb team, who play beautiful, powerful rugby at a consistently high level. They are the best. NZ by 14.

  9. Thanks and as per usual and I guess expected the All Blacks won. Don’t get me wrong though, I to think the AB’s are a great team and obviously have an amazing record, but my beef is how things like rugby tradition can be forced on young people/students that would otherwise given their own thoughts and freedom of speech would not even really give a flying f..k about the game or the so called traditions that go with it.
    Oppression is what a lot of students feel in NZ. Forced to follow a so called tradition and forced to love Rugby. They even take a school half day holiday for the local Derby in rugby at the school I went to… what about the other sports?!!!
    Like those funny comedians like Frankie Boyle once said ‘it’s bad news for New Zealand… RUGBY DOESN’T MATTER’!!!!

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