Preview: England v New Zealand
NOVEMBER SPOTLIGHT: “Styles make fights” is usually the talk of boxing promoters, but it could prove true of England’s long-awaited clash against world champions New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday.
England coach Eddie Jones has often insisted that trying to play the All Blacks at their own running from deep, passing game is a recipe for defeat, with the Australian championing the traditional Red Rose strengths of a powerful forward pack and solid set piece.
And All Blacks coach Steve Hansen accepted there was more than one way to win a game.
“Southern Hemisphere rugby – there’s a lot of talk about Super Rugby, it’s very free-flowing with a lot of tries scored, but in this part of the world, maybe because the environment is different, the weather is different, there is a necessity to play a tighter game,” said Hansen.
“I’m certainly not bragging about it,” he added.
“We have natural athletes who want to run and carry the ball and pass the ball.”
The experienced Jones also knows the virtues of adaptability.
It was a trait England, then coached by Stuart Lancaster, showed in the last of just their seven wins over the All Blacks six years ago – when leading 12-0 at the break courtesy of four Owen Farrell penalties, they ran in three second-half tries through Brad Barritt, Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi in a 38-21 triumph.
Dashing wing Ashton is now set to make his first Test start in four years but the injury-prone Tuilagi’s long wait for an England recall has been delayed again by a groin problem.
Flyhalf Farrell has found himself in the spotlight after escaping any action for a seemingly illegal shoulder charge in the closing stages of an unconvincing 12-11 win over South Africa at Twickenham last weekend with which England launched their November campaign.
But former Wallaby and Japan boss Jones insisted Farrell required the kind of protection referees routinely afforded by match officials to Ireland No 10 Jonathan Sexton.
“If he was Sexton then we’d be able to complain about him, but because he’s Owen Farrell he’s allowed to be hit late,” said Jones. He’s tough so he gets up and he plays.
“He’s a tough rooster, a warrior. He puts his body on the line, he doesn’t play in a dinner suit.”
Ashton, 31, who came off the bench against the Springboks, has scored 19 tries in a 40-cap England career interrupted by suspensions and spending a season with French giants Toulon.
“That try-scoring skill is nothing coached,” said Jones.
“Guys like that, the only thing you can do is stuff them up by coaching them.”
Free rein is something that comes naturally to an All Blacks side where fullback Damian McKenzie will act as a ‘second playmaker’ to star fly-half Beauden Barrett in a first-choice team featuring Sonny Bill Williams and Jack Goodhue in midfield.
“We think against sides that play a little differently than we do, having two playmakers makes it a lot harder for them to shut us down,” said Hansen whose side, fresh from victories over Australia and Japan, find themselves in their familiar role of favourites.
For all their ball-playing skill, few New Zealand sides have lacked physical presence and a team captained by No 8 Kieran Read will look to make an impact up front.
It all makes for an intriguing clash fewer than 12 months out from the 2019 World Cup in Japan – one made all the more exciting by the fact it is four years since England last played New Zealand.
“The old adage of less is more is probably a good thing,” said Hansen. “Would we be so excited about playing England if we were playing twice a year, every year? – maybe not.
“But we haven’t played them in four years and everyone is on the edge of their seat, can’t wait.”
Players to watch:
For England: The return of enigmatic Chris Ashton may shine some of the spotlight on him, but perhaps Jonny May is a bigger strike weapon on the other wing. Masterton-born loose forward Brad Shields will have a point to prove to his compatriots – show them just how wrong they were for overlooking him for the All Black team. George Ford will also play a crucial role when he comes off the bench at some stage.
For New Zealand: You start with the fleet-footed Damian McKenzie at fullback and then look at each player – asking: How can England match them? Perhaps the player most under pressure is centre Sonny Bill Williams, who has not been up to his usually high standards this year. The return from injury of stalwart Brodie Retallick in the second row also gives the All Black team a different look and feel.
Head to head: You can look at almost every position and find intriguing battles. The key contest in the backline is at flyhalf – the more measured approach of Owen Farrell (England) against the capricious nature of Beauden Barrett (New Zealand). Not only are they crucial to their respective teams, but they are also highly entertaining. The other crucial factor for England is how their tight forwards measure up to the All Blacks – George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Dylan Hartley and Ben Moon (England) against Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu’inukuafe (New Zealand).
2014: New Zealand won 24-21, London
2014: New Zealand won 36-13, Hamilton
2014: New Zealand won 28-27, Dunedin
2014: New Zealand won 20-15, Auckland
2013: New Zealand won 30-22, London
2012: England won 38-21, London
2010: New Zealand won 26-16, London
2009: New Zealand won 19-6, London
2008: New Zealand won 32-6, London
2008: New Zealand won 44-12, Christchurch
Prediction: Before their slump this year, England was regarded as the biggest threat to New Zealand’s global dominance. However, Eddie Jones has his work cut out to make up lost ground. Even last week’s win over South Africa has done nothing to dispel doubts over England’s credentials. Despite our expectations being lowered by the testing conditions, the smart money is on a New Zealand win – by 20 points.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (co-captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Brad Shields, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dylan Hartley (co-captain), 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Courtney Lawes, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Jack Nowell.
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Date: Saturday, November 10
Venue: Twickenham, London
Kick-off: 15.00 (15.00 GMT; 04.00 NZ time Sunday, November 11)
Expected weather: The chance of a few showers, particularly during the afternoon. High of 14°C and a low of 9°C
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
AFP & @rugby365com