All Black camp's insecurities give Borthwick's team a chink of light

Great civilisations rise and fall in the time it takes England to win a Test match in All Black country: after John Pullin's amateur no-hopers successfully flew in the face of rugby logic to prevail in 1973, there was a 30-year wait for Martin Johnson's ultra-professional world champions-elect to achieve something similar. Yet if the chances of a red rose triumph at Eden Park tomorrow morning are not, statistically speaking, particularly brilliant, there is a growing feeling here that New Zealanders will at least have to sweat blood for their victory.

Richard Loe, that formidable front-row ogre from the south island who caused more than his fair share of mayhem in the course of a 49-cap career, predicted yesterday that the hosts would win by a mere 14 points – a very far cry from the astronomical figures usually bandied about when the English come to town. The All Black nation is unsure of itself, and that uncertainty weighs heavily on the coach, Graham Henry, and the captain, Richie McCaw. Just for once, supremacy is the stuff of aspiration, not assumption.

The tourists must surely be aware of these insecurities, because they are reflected in the pages of every newspaper, on every radio talkback show, on every television sports channel. There is endless debate about the state of the sport in this most rugby-obsessed of communities – about the reappointment of Henry, about new contracts signed by McCaw and Daniel Carter with their controversial sabbatical clauses, about the challenges posed by the tiger economies in England and France. When Steve Tew, the chief executive of the New Zealand union, openly admits that the fight is on for the hearts and minds of the public, anything is possible.

And an English victory must be counted among those possibilities. Last week, when the All Blacks saw off Ireland's challenge in the rain and wind of Wellington, they dominated at both scrum and line-out. No one seriously expects them to exert similar pressure at the set-piece tomorrow – Andrew Sheridan and Matt Stevens are a slightly different proposition to Marcus Horan and John Hayes in the propping department – and with Steve Borthwick running an England line-out boasting a jumper as athletic as Tom Palmer, the New Zealanders cannot be confident of achieving anything better than parity there either. This alone means the visitors should stay in the game for far longer than most of their forerunners.

This is not a weak England side, by any stretch of the imagination. Six of the pack are undisputed first-choicers; Richard Wigglesworth is the incumbent scrum-half, although he will do well to hang on to his place when Harry Ellis of Leicester finally returns to international business after injury; Olly Barkley and Mike Tindall can legitimately consider themselves the senior centre pairing; David Strettle's status as a starting wing is as secure as it can be. And Charlie Hodgson's reappearance gives the tourists some footballing know-how in the pivot position.

Should England go down heavily here, it will be counted a back-room failure as well as an on-field one. A year ago, Brian Ashton travelled to South Africa for a two-Test series he needed like the proverbial hole in the head and, armed with only a third-string side full of old lags and Johnny-come-latelys, somehow inspired his team to a half-time lead in Pretoria against a side that would win the World Cup four months later.

John Wells, the forwards coach, was among those who made the trip to Springbok land, where he found himself preparing a journeyman pack for battle against the likes of John Smit, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger. This is another kettle of fish entirely. "I think it's fair to say that the skill element amongst those here is different," he admitted. "I hope the hard core of this England pack will be around over the next two or three years and take us towards the 2011 World Cup. We're getting the better players on the pitch for these matches, so we should be very competitive."

Assuming the tight forwards do their thing, the contest between the loose trios will be compelling. James Haskell and Tom Rees, the two Wasps flankers, are in the very best of form, and while it would be asking a bit much of them to put rivals as celebrated as McCaw and Rodney So'oialo to the sword, they should at least pierce their armour. As for the No 8 Luke Narraway, he is no less experienced than Jerome Kaino, the least familiar of the All Black back-rowers.

It is in the open areas of the field that the New Zealanders hold an obvious advantage, although the hamstring injury suffered by Mils Muliaina in training on Wednesday threatens to compromise it to a degree. (Paul Williams, the Otago full-back, has been called in as cover). England will bank on Tindall to neutralise Conrad Smith, perhaps the smartest outside centre in world rugby, but when it comes to stopping the likes of Sitiveni Sivivatu, they can only look to the heavens and pray. Is Topsy Ojo, the freshly-minted wing from London Irish, up to it? Only time – 80 long minutes of it – will tell.

New Zealand will expect to win the try count. But if Barkley kicks his goals as Wilkinson did in Wellington five years ago, England may well find themselves in the game deep into the final quarter. And if that happens, who knows where the All Blacks' apprehensions and anxieties will take them?

New Zealand: M Muliaina (Waikato); A Tuitavake (North Harbour), C Smith (Wellington), M Nonu (Wellington), S Sivivatu (Waikato); D Carter (Canterbury), A Ellis (Canterbury); N Tialata (Wellington), A Hore (Taranaki), G Somerville (Canterbury), B Thorn (Tasman), A Williams (Tasman), R So'oialo (Wellington), R McCaw (Canterbury, capt), J Kaino (Auckland). Replacements: K Mealamu (Auckland), J Schwalger (Wellington), A Boric (North Harbour), S Lauaki (Waikato), J Cowan (Southland), S Donald (Waikato), L MacDonald (Canterbury).

England: M Brown (Harlequins), T Ojo (London Irish), M Tindall (Gloucester), O Barkley (Bath), D Strettle (Harlequins); C Hodgson (Sale), R Wigglesworth (Sale); A Sheridan (Sale), L Mears (Bath), M Stevens (Bath), T Palmer (Wasps), S Borthwick (Bath, capt), J Haskell (Wasps), T Rees (Wasps), L Narraway (Gloucester). Replacements: D Paice (London Irish), T Payne (Wasps), B Kay (Leicester), J Worsley (Wasps), D Care (Harlequins), J Noon (Newcastle), M Tait (Newcastle).

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?