England in turmoil, New Zealand in Arcadia. Four attritional weeks on the road have knocked chunks out of both sides and neither will venture unscathed into today's second Test at Twickenham. The similarity ends there, however. While Clive Woodward has spent his week wrestling with selection riddles at stand-off, wing, prop and hooker, anyone might have been forgiven for thinking that the only dilemma facing the All Blacks was whether Zinzan Brooke, their majestic No 8, should celebrate his 100th and last game for the silver fern by scoring to the left of the English posts or the right.
Events may conspire to make fools of us all, of course, although there is more likelihood of Zinny flummoxing everyone by scoring between the posts than of England turning the world on its head by inflicting what would be only the second defeat on the All Blacks since John Hart took over some 30 matches ago.
Lawrence Dallaglio's men should want this one more than the tourists, if only to earn Woodward some sort of reward for the spirit of adventure he has brought to the national cause. Sadly, England are no better placed to sneak a psychological advantage than they are to steal a technical or tactical march on the finest side to visit these shores since Basil Kenyon's Springboks gave British backsides a fearful Grand Slam kicking in 1951.
It is not England's penalty-laden 15-9 victory over New Zealand in 1993 that rankles with Hart. He was out in the North Island cold at the time. The gremlin lurking under the coach's skin is of far more recent vintage, stemming as it does from events at Old Trafford a fortnight ago.
Hart was genuinely angered by Martin Johnson's assault on Justin Marshall, thoroughly insulted by Richard Cockerill's one-man invasion of the haka and, if truth be told, wholly deflated by his side's failure to use two early tries as the launchpad for something truly memorable. "Maybe we let the occasion get to us," he said yesterday, "but we've played at Twickenham before so it won't be happening again. Our tour is not over until the final whistle this afternoon and we want to end it properly."
Intriguingly, Hart wants his players to seize the day for its own sake. "International rugby is so special that it makes no sense to play for anything but the present," he said. "I don't see the 1999 World Cup as the be all and end all. We could lose in '99 - we're talking about one- off matches, after all - but, if we did, would it destroy the things we achieved in '96 and '97 and might yet achieve in '98? Not in my book, it wouldn't.
"There are things for us to celebrate in this game that will never happen again - Zinny's retirement, Olo Brown's 50th cap - and I want us to do right by those landmarks."
For Woodward, 1999 is what this exercise is all about. Defeat today will leave him without a victory from his first four Tests and, given the fact that the fifth will be against France in Paris, a man of weaker will might be tempted to revert to English type, play safe on the selection front and attempt to kick his way out of trouble. Which is precisely what he will not do.
"If the World Cup was being played this month, we'd be in no position to win it," he said. "But I can see us winning it in two years' time. I have a vision of how we should be playing and I intend to stick to it, both against New Zealand and throughout the Five Nations in the new year. Yes, I'm disappointed we're going into this game without a win. No, I'm not going to ditch my opinions. This is no time to start fudging the issues that this series against the southern hemisphere sides have thrown up."
The issues today are concentrated in two distinct areas: the respective front and back threes. The absence of Craig Dowd and Sean Fitzpatrick undeniably lends New Zealand's front row a more human appearance and a world-class opposing trio might do enough to force the Brooke brothers, Andrew Mehrtens and the rest on to the back foot. Unfortunately, England have looked anything but world-class in that theatre of action.
Should the tourists achieve parity or better at the set-piece, watch out world. Given decent ball and a yard to run in, Christian Cullen, Jeff Wilson and Jonah Lomu will surely fire enough bullets to penetrate an English defence seriously short of physical clout, not to mention international know-how.
Woodward will not be too depressed if New Zealand win by 20 clear points - but Hart will be more than a little cheesed off if it is any closer.
ENGLAND v NEW ZEALAND
M Perry Bath 15 C Cullen Manawatu
D Rees Sale 14 J Wilson Otago
W Greenwood Leicester 13 F Bunce N Harbour
P de Glanville Bath 12 W Little N Harbour
A Healey Leicester 11 J Lomu Counties
P Grayson Northampton 10 A Mehrtens Canterbury
K Bracken Saracens 9 J Marshall Canterbury, capt
J Leonard Harlequins 1 M Allen Manawatu
R Cockerill Leicester 2 N Hewitt Southland
D Garforth Leicester 3 O Brown Auckland
M Johnson Leicester 4 I Jones N Harbour
G Archer Newcastle 5 R Brooke Auckland
L Dallaglio Wasps, capt 6 T Randell Otago
R Hill Saracens 8 Z Brooke Auckland
N Back Leicester 7 J Kronfeld Otago
Referee: J Fleming (Scotland) Kick-off: 2.0 (Sky Sports 2)
Replacements: 16 T Stimpson (Newcastle); 17 M Dawson (Northampton); 18 C Sheasby (Wasps); 19 D Grewcock (Saracens); 20 K Yates (Bath); 21 M Regan (Bath).
Replacements: 16 S McLeod (Wellington); 17 C Spencer (Auckland); 18 J Preston (Auckland); 19 C Riechelmann (Auckland); 20 C Barrell (Taranaki); 21 A Oliver (Otago).Reuse content