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New Zealand v England - teams and prediction

PREVIEW: The big question is: ‘Will the All Blacks be Razor sharp?’

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The Scott Robertson era starts when New Zealand hosts England in the first of two Tests at the Otago Stadium on Saturday.

The fully covered stadium is also known colloquially as ‘The Glasshouse’ due to its resemblance to a horticultural hothouse.

However, the indoor venue is not the focal point.

Scott Maurice Robertson, after missing the cut on a previous occasion, finally takes charge of the All Blacks in an international.

Nicknamed ‘Razor’, he played as a flank for Bay of Plenty, Perpignan, Canterbury and the Crusaders.

He won 23 international caps for New Zealand between 1998 and 2002.

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His coach résumé includes the New Zealand Under-20 team, the Canterbury NPC team and taking the Crusaders to a record number of seven consecutive Super Rugby championships.

With veteran players Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Dane Coles and Richie Mo’unga all retired or plying their trade overseas, it really is the start of a new era for the All Blacks.

Scott Barrett has taken over the captaincy mantle, with Ardie Savea and Jordie Barrett acting as vice captains.

* (Article contiues below the Scott Robertson interview …)

England have won eight of 43 Tests against the All Blacks, but only two of those victories were on New Zealand soil.

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The All Blacks have not played since losing 11-12 in the World Cup Final to South Africa in Paris in October, while England finished third in this year’s Six Nations.

If England were to win in New Zealand on Saturday, it would be a massive scalp by anyone’s reckoning.

It is unlikely the All Blacks will underestimate England as they did with Ireland two years ago.

Some pundits are already looking forward to their Rugby Championship face-off with South Africa in late August and early September.

However, Razor’s first test is in Dunedin on Saturday.

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Former England captain Will Carling has been impressed by England’s style of play under coach Steve Borthwick and believes that England will need to embrace that ‘expansive’ style fully if they are to have any hope of upsetting the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time since 2003.

England does have some momentum going into the two-Test series.

Captain Jamie George said he saw improvement in last week’s tour-opening 52-17 demolition of Japan in Tokyo.

“Regardless of who we play against now, I see opportunity everywhere within this team,” he said.

“We wanted to use the momentum of the Six Nations to try and create an identity.

“This week has got that feel. We’re feeling fit, we’re feeling ready to go and we want to take these guys on,” George said.

George said he learned a lot from the British and Irish Lions’ tour of New Zealand in 2017, when he started in all three Tests in the drawn series.

The importance of gaining the initiative against the All Blacks was also made clear in England’s 19-7 semifinal triumph over the tournament favourites at the 2019 World Cup.

“That’s one of the best games that I’ve ever been a part of,” George said, adding: “We all lived up to the occasion.

“Sometimes when you’re in games like that, or occasions like that, it allows you to go to a place that you probably never thought you were capable of going.

“We’re going to have to go to some dark places to get a win in Dunedin on Saturday.”

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Players to watch

For New Zealand: One of the talking points of the All Black matchday 23 is the return of scrumhalf TJ Perenara and right wing Sevu Reece to the side. Perenara and Reece have both overcome serious injury setbacks to earn their respective places in the starting line-up. At 32-years-old, Perenara is set to play his first Test in nearly two years after rupturing his Achilles during the All Blacks 25-all draw with England in London in 2022. Reece, who was Super Rugby Pacific’s top try scorer this year, is also in line to play his first Test since 2022, after missing most of the 2023 season when he ruptured his ACL playing for the Crusaders.

England: Experienced props Joe Marler and Will Stuart were recalled this week. Marler and Stuart will pack down in the front row either side of captain Jamie George in the only changes to the England team which thrashed Japan 52-17 in Tokyo 11 days ago. Uncapped prop Fin Baxter and wing Ollie Sleightholme – son of former England wing Jon Sleightholme – are poised to make their first appearances for England from the bench.

Head to head

Prediction

@rugby365com: New Zealand by 12 points

NZ v Eng prediction

Teams

New Zealand: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Jordie Barrett, 11 Mark Tele’a, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Dalton Papali’i, 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Ethan De Groot.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Beauden Barrett.

England: 15 George Furbank, 14 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Lawrence, 11 Tommy Freeman, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Chandler Cunningham-South, 5 George Martin, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Jamie George (captain), 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Fin Baxter, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Alex Coles, 20 Tom Curry, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Fin Smith, 23 Ollie Sleightholme.

Date: Saturday, July 6
Venue: Otago Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.05 (08.05 BST; 07.05 GMT)
Expected weather: No impact. It is an indoor venue
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

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Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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