20 Nov

Match preview: England v All Blacks
by Tracey Nelson
20 Nov 2009

Obviously the most important thing for the All Blacks to achieve this weekend is a win over England. Anything less will relegate the entire end of year tour as a failure. But there are some additional boxes that could do with some ticks too.

Thankfully the coaches have selected the same forward pack I would have, which is always a good start in my books. The naming of Thomson, McCaw and Read points to a desire for dominance at the breakdown and the combination of McCaw and Thomson on the flanks should provide the speed to outgun England there. I also like the options both Thomson and Read provide in the lineout.

The tight five are exactly that – a tight five who won’t roam about getting in the way of the backs, and all of them have shown willingness and ability to get to the breakdown in numbers and not shirk their duties in the ball security stakes. If there is one thing that would play into England’s hands this weekend, it would be the All Blacks reverting to the Fatties in the Backline style of play we saw the game against Italy degenerate into last weekend – they key to beating England and beating them well is to provide clean, fast, front foot ball and let our backline rip into it without having to sidestep their own forwards.

The first tick box I would like to see fulfilled (well, the second after actually winning the game of course) is for the backs to score tries. So far in the two test matches against Wales and Italy it has been the hookers who have scored the tries – and just one each, leaving a sad tally of one try per test. This needs to change, and Twickenham is the ground to do it on.

The other tick box is the requirement to keep our line unbreached. A win against England will be badly tarnished if they score a try against us, particularly with the way England have been travelling so far. They have selected a very defensive-oriented side, so it would be all the more galling to concede 5 points to them.

Of interest will be the shift of Zac Guildford over to the right wing – a position he feels is not uncomfortable for him, and one he opted to take in deference to his more senior counterpart Sitiveni Sivivatu who offered him the left wing spot. England have a Kiwi amongst their ranks in hooker Dylan Hartley (born in NZ but shifted to England as a teenager) in just his fourth run-on start. Hartley played in the same Rotorua Boys’ High School 1st XV with Liam Messam. They are also starting Ayoola Erinle at 2nd 5 this weekend which makes for a new pairing in the England midfield, and he will be head to head with Ma’a Nonu.

England have been slammed by their own press (and fans) as being boring and lacking any skills to play attacking rugby after losing to Australia and only just beating Argentina this month. Some of their better attacking players have been relegated to the bench (Mathew Tait, Shane Geraghty, Tom Croft), and whilst Simon Shaw is back from injury at lock the entire line-up looks remiscent of siege-mentality in what is likely to be an attempt to prevent he All Blacks from getting their running game going more than having a clue how to attack to win the game.

That doesn’t mean that powerful forward play should take a back seat, and I hope the All Blacks can also illustrate some good scrummaging (thankfully Stuart Dickinson isn’t refereeing this week!) and physical dominance at the breakdown. The All Blacks owe it not just to themselve and their fans, but to world rugby to ensure ball through the hand dominates the now in-vogue kicking game that has brought rugby union to the sorry state of being a kick-fest at international level.

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