Rugby Union: England display a rare uncertainty: Unfamiliarity has bred apprehension and given tourists a head start in today's Test. Steve Bale reports

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The Independent Online
VICTORY over New Zealand at Twickenham this afternoon would, Will Carling says, be the ultimate achievement of his five years as England captain. Which would be true enough, even if his remark somehow betrays the very thing Geoff Cooke has spent the same five years trying to eradicate.

To beat the Blacks would be special, but Cooke, the England manager, does not want it to be that special. As he has often said, Triple Crowns and Grand Slams do not make England a world force. In that context it is the southern hemisphere that counts, and in the southern-hemisphere context New Zealand still count for more than anyone.

'These are the games that above all England have to try to win if we are really to feel we are making progress in the way we play,' Cooke said yesterday as his players concluded their training at the fog-bound Stoop. 'We have beaten South Africa within the last 12 months, which was important for us but I recognise they were only just coming back. It's a while since we've beaten Australia. Now we have an opportunity to beat New Zealand.'

Alas for England, it is not the ideal time. But when is it ever? And in any case the injury problems which have disrupted their build-up should not override the fact that the All Blacks left home deprived of world-class players of their own, nor indeed that it is the very nature of these tours to hit the home countries when they are most vulnerable.

The underlying problem for Cooke and Carling is that England play New Zealand so seldom that when they do it is too mammoth an event. The redesigned Twickenham will be full with 68,000 people today, but then so it would if this were an annual fixture - which is precisely what the England manager would like it to be.

'The sad thing is that we don't play these guys often enough,' Cooke said. 'Australia have learned. Because they play each other regularly they don't have this awe about the New Zealanders and they have now come to terms with them as just another set of opponents - just like we regard our Five Nations opponents.

'There's no question that this residual awe still exists, and it's built up on a tour like this. It's happened all the way through history: they come across, they are successful, they go away, and we wonder what's wrong with British rugby. Then we go back to our old ways and we get shaken again 10 years later.' (In fact, 10 years ago England beat New Zealand at Twickenham.)

The block is as much psychological as physical, a case of unfamiliarity breeding a kind of apprehension England players would never feel as they approached a Five Nations game. It gives the Blacks, who have already beaten Scotland 51-15, a quite unnecessary but nonetheless palpable head start.

'I'd like to see England playing New Zealand every year,' Cooke said. 'That's the world stage. We have to be careful that we don't regard the Five Nations as the be-all and end-all. It's only a stepping-stone. Now that England have at last started to assert themselves in Five Nations terms, that's when you have to start looking at another level to take it on.'

This is far-sighted stuff but also of immediate relevance to today's match. At the same time Cooke would gladly settle for a win purely for its short-term pleasure, never mind any long-term significance. How to achieve it is something that has unsuccessfully exercised coaches and captains throughout the All Blacks' 10-match winning progress through England and Scotland.

Here is the prescription of Dick Best, England's coach: 'We've got to get more physical up front, particularly in the line-out. Winning good ball is going to be absolutely crucial if the team is going to function. You have to tackle, tackle, and when you've had enough do some more.'

And Carling: 'We've got to make far fewer unforced errors than other sides who have come up against them. You just can't spill ball in contact against them and you certainly can't miss your first-up tackles because then they are away. Also we've got to be slightly more confident in our own ability in attacking them. They don't create a lot; they just put you under pressure and when you make mistakes they score points.'

The captain's final point is his most contentious, because if there was one thing New Zealand showed in their hammering of the Scots it was that they are genuinely creative, possibly the most creative All Blacks since Brian Lochore's side of rose-tinted memory that toured here in 1967.

'They've been on tour seven weeks and are now a superbly drilled side,' Carling said. 'We know we'll have to play as well as England have played since I've been a part of the team. That's the scale of the task. If we do manage to win, it would be the greatest win England have had since I started playing with them.'

Even without the injured Martin Bayfield, England have a big, ball- winning pack - which is no guarantee, since that was what Scotland thought they had before they were laid waste a week ago.

The All Blacks expect a far harder encounter today and are so desperate to include their goal- kicker Matthew Cooper that they will leave a decision about his groin strain until just before kick-off if necessary.

''It's awfully hard to lift players twice in a week, particularly when they've played well and feel very self-satisfied,' Earle Kirton, the New Zealand coach who taught Dick Best part of what he knows when they were both Harlequins, said yesterday. Do not be deceived: these All Blacks will lift themselves all right, high enough to be beyond England's reach.

----------------------------------------------------------------- ENGLAND'S RECORD AGAINST NEW ZEALAND ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1905 L 0-15 Crystal Palace 1925 L 11-17 Twickenham 1936 W 13-0 Twickenham 1954 L 0-5 Twickenham 1963 L 11-21 Auckland 1963 L 6-9 Christchurch 1964 L 0-14 Twickenham 1967 L 11-23 Twickenham 1973 L 0-9 Twickenham 1973 W 16-10 Auckland 1978 L 6-16 Twickenham 1979 L 9-10 Twickenham 1983 W 15-9 Twickenham 1985 L 13-18 Christchurch 1985 L 15-42 Twickenham 1991 L 12-18 Twickenham* ----------------------------------------------------------------- * World Cup -----------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------------------------------------------------- ENGLAND v NEW ZEALAND (at Twickenham) ----------------------------------------------------------------- J Callard. . . . . . . . . Bath 15 J Timu. . . . . . . . .Otago T Underwood. . . . . .Leicester 14 J Wilson. . . . . . . .Otago W Carling. . . Harlequins, capt 13 F Bunce. . . . North Harbour P de Glanville. . . . . . .Bath 12 M Cooper. . . . . . .Waikato R Underwood. . . . . .Leicester 11 V Tuigamala. . . . .Auckland R Andrew. . . . . . . . . Wasps 10 M Ellis. . . . . . . . Otago K Bracken. . . . . . . .Bristol 9 S Forster. . . . . . . Otago J Leonard. . . . . . Harlequins 1 C Dowd. . . . . . . Auckland B Moore. . . . . . . Harlequins 2 S Fitzpatrick. . . .Auckland, capt V Ubogu. . . . . . . . . . Bath 3 O Brown. . . . . . .Auckland M Johnson. . . . . . .Leicester 4 I Jones. . . .North Auckland N Redman. . . . . . . . . .Bath 5 S Gordon. . . . . . .Waikato T Rodber. . . . . . Northampton 6 J Joseph. . . . . . . .Otago D Richards. . . . . . Leicester 8 A Pene. . . . . . . . .Otago B Clarke. . . . . . . . . .Bath 7 Z Brooke. . . . . . Auckland ----------------------------------------------------------------- Replacements: 16 I Hunter Replacements: 16 E Clarke (Northampton), 17 S Barnes (Bath), (Auckland), 17 J Preston 18 M Dawson (Northampton), (Wellington) 18 B Larsen (North 19 G Rowntree (Leicester), Harbour) 19 P Henderson 20 G Dawe (Bath), 21 J Hall (Bath). (Southland) 20 M Allen (Taranaki) 21 N Hewitt (Hawke's Bay) ----------------------------------------------------------------- Referee: F Burger (South Africa) Kick-off 2pm. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Wilson the wonder boy, page 24

De Glanville a cut above, page 25

(Photograph omitted)