Twickenham is the venue this afternoon as New Zealand spearhead the final southern hemisphere assault of this international season. The All Blacks have barely put a foot wrong so far and with England under pressure to salvage some pride, the majority are expecting the tourists to head home on a high.
Since scraping past Australia in Hong Kong back at the beginning of November, New Zealand have strolled past Scotland, Ireland and Wales with relative ease and have looked every bit the best team in the world. I guess it is rather ironic that their toughest test during the last month came against Munster when they needed a late try from Joe Rokocoko to secure an 18-16 win.
Victories have been the norm for New Zealand throughout 2008 and I imagine they are beginning to forget what losing feels like. It is only two defeats this year and these both came in July courtesy of Australia and South Africa respectively, but they still went on to top the Tri Nations group with four victories in the competition.
This all means that it is only two defeats for the All Blacks since the Rugby World Cup last year. During this tournament, of course, they crashed out to France in the quarter-finals to leave them devastated, but perhaps the recent run of 13 wins in 15 matches since that disappointing day is their way of dealing with it. They certainly seem more determined than ever right now.
Next in line for the number one team in the world, as we all know, is England. Martin Johnson’s men suffered a humiliating 42-6 defeat to World Champions South Africa last time out and this followed a comfortable defeat to Australia a week earlier. With this in mind, coming up against a New Zealand team who haven’t lost since July and are focused on finishing this set of fixtures with a resounding win isn’t exactly ideal.
Nevertheless, England must believe they can match the All Blacks as this is a very important time for the new era. Another crashing defeat and the pressure would be on Johnson already.
If they are to weather the New Zealand storm, there is one man they will have to watch out for – Dan Carter. The fly-half averages 20 points against England and anything of this nature would almost certainly assure victory for his team.
Carter – who starts a six month sabbatical with Perpignan after this game – is aiming to help New Zealand record a ‘Grand Slam’ victory over the home nations for the second time in three years. He describes the match as the final hurdle in an excellent year for a much-changed New Zealand team.
In terms of rugby betting for this match, there is no doubt that Carter and co are expected to fly over this ‘final hurdle’ with some to spare. Betfair’s rugby odds have New Zealand at 1.08 (1/12), while England are very much the outsiders at 13 (12/1). Pretty long odds in a two horse race wouldn’t you agree?