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England vs New Zealand: perspectives from both camps

15 November 2013

  • RFUtv takes a view on England New Zealand from both camps
  • Hear from Lancaster, Hansen, Rowntree, Robshaw, Savea, Launchbury and A.Smith

Whether or not they are the greatest current incarnation of a sports team, New Zealand arrive at Twickenham tomorrow with one of the most enviable winning records in professional sport.

With only one defeat in their last 33 matches, the All Blacks have won 12 straight games in 2013 and, with only England and Ireland in Dublin next weekend remaining, aim to finish the season with an unblemished scorecard.

But, adding overwhelming context to Saturday’s final QBE International, the sole “L” in the results column – the heaviest defeat captain Richie McCaw has suffered in 122 largely peerless Tests – was a chastening 38-21 reverse to Stuart Lancaster’s side this time last year.

That day tries from Brad Barritt, Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi, augmented by 17 from the boot of Owen Farrell, capped a vivacious display of controlled aggression from the forwards, with All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen accepting his team were out-thought and out-muscled.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen

Photo: Getty Images

“There were no excuses, we got beaten by a team which played much better than us on the day,” he said after announcing a VX retaining 12 players from last year’s clash.

“People have bandied the word revenge around, but I think that’s one of the silliest words you can use in rugby. What it is is an opportunity to see if we’ve actually improved and if we’re actually good enough to beat England. We weren’t last time – they were first, daylight was second and we were third.”

England captain Chris Robshaw, at his indefatigable best with 19 tackles, 12 carries and 27 rucks last December, is in no doubt about the scale of the challenge presented by a side who scored 24 tries in the Rugby Championship.

“New Zealand are the best attacking side out there and we’ve got to make sure we are very cautious with that,” said Robshaw, who grabbed an opportunistic first Test try in the win over Australia.

“They can hurt you from anywhere so, defensively, we have to be spot on. They’ve been round the world beating teams and it’s the biggest challenge we will face.”

England captain Chris Robshaw takes charge during training

Photo: Getty Images

But England are on a proud run of their own – winning nine of their last ten and six straight at home for the first time since 2003 – having defeated Australia and Argentina already this autumn. So how will they look to impose their game on the illustrious visitors?

Despite missing six British and Irish Lions through injury, fired-up forwards coach Graham Rowntree is no doubt that New Zealand’s “intense, aggressive, width-orientated” style of play can be bettered.

“We want to get after every pack,” he snarled. “I think they’re beatable, we speak about our intensity and giving them what they don’t want.

“We need to provide good ball for our backs. The breakdown receives major attention from us every day, we’re drilling that area and it is an area where we’ve got to be cleaner on our own possession and give them what they don’t want on their ball.”

England lock Joe Launchbury rises above Brodie Retallick to claim a line out

Photo: Getty Images

Winning the space beyond the ball at the breakdown and shutting down McCaw and his fellow tackle-area henchmen was a key factor in winning last year’s game and Joe Launchbury believes the same is required if England are to achieve an eighth victory over the Kiwis.

The six foot seven lock, one of Rowntree’s most accurate and consistent lieutenants, said: “The last couple of games we probably haven’t played for 80 minutes, so that’s probably the first thing we need to look for.

“They are human, sometimes they look like they’re not, but they definitely are and there are certain areas we will look to target. We’re trying to be a hard-edged pack which can get round the park.

“We’ve worked really hard as a group of forwards over the autumn; you saw us kicking to the corner against Argentina and we’re trying to bring that into our game.”

Julian Savea, whose two classy Twickenham tries last year were to no avail, offered a simple but telling explanation of what he expects from England. “They’re pretty strong, big boys and they’ve got some very dangerous players at the back,” he said. “They can run, they can kick, just like us, it comes down to who can do it better.”

And diminutive scrum half Aaron Smith, who will expect his kicking game to feel the heat from England’s back row, believes the home side and home crowd will raise their game, just like every team who faces the world champions.

Aaron Smith, Dan Carter and Kieran Read celebrate a New Zealand try

Photo: Getty Images

“I guess the occasion is a little bit bigger because of what England did to us last year,” he grinned. “You know what the crowd is going to give you – a whole lot of love – so it’s exciting. We love a challenge and we’re very lucky in Test footie that every week is a big challenge.”

In addition to their winning run, Hansen’s side boast 842 caps in their starting line-up and five who are the most capped All Blacks ever in their respective positions:  McCaw, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Daniel Carter and Ma'a Nonu.

But does an England team with 314 caps view that as intimidating or as an opportunity? A final word from 22 year-old Launchbury, who is maturing into an authoritative presence on and off the pitch:

“We’ve been through quite a lot together and we’ve started to string some results together. If we want to be the side we want to be and play at the top end of rugby, you need to be matched up against New Zealand. This is a big game for us.”