England pick a fight in mocking the All Blacks' attacking style

The way their rivals tell it, England reached the final of the last World Cup in 2007 playing "anti-rugby" – a profoundly negative, forward-driven, kick-obsessed style of union that undermined the tournament as a spectacle and drove the law-makers to seek radical new ways of selling the sport to a mass audience. The way the red-rose hierarchy told it yesterday, the killjoy spirit is alive and well. Martin Johnson's side will go into this weekend's highly significant match with New Zealand at Twickenham with one change in their starting line-up – Andrew Sheridan for Tim Payne at loose-head prop – and no change at all in their mindset.

Asked for his impressions of a southern hemisphere Tri-Nations series that showed a doubling of the try-count and a sharp drop in the amount of kicking from hand, the England defence strategist Mike Ford startled his audience with what amounted to a dismissive condemnation of much of the stuff played by the All Blacks, the Wallabies and the Springboks. "There were three games in that competition averaging out at 77 points each," he said. "That's not Test rugby. We want this to be an old-fashioned Test and we know what that means. We have a 'no excuses' mentality. We don't say: 'They've scored one try, so we'll score two.' We're comfortable with where we sit defensively, with putting up the shutters, and we're confident we can deliver."

These were brazenly provocative words – not even the brilliant Bledisloe Cup contest between the All Blacks and the Wallabies in Hong Kong last Saturday met with the coach's complete approval – and they will put fire in the bellies of the tourists, who take great pride in their dynamic, free-scoring, cutting-edge brand of rugby. Generally speaking, there is precious little advantage to be gained from mocking the New Zealanders, but Ford knew what he was about. It is five long years since England last asked serious questions of the best team on the planet – New Zealand are always better than everyone else between World Cups – and the back-room staff are clearly intent on summoning the furies this weekend, just as Andy Robinson and his colleagues did in 2005.

Size matters when a rugby match is reduced to a "shit fight", to borrow the current players' jargon, and England will certainly have size on their side. Sheridan, back between the shafts for the first time since the 2009 Six Nations victory over Scotland, weighs in at more than 19 stone, while his front-row partner Steve Thompson brings more than 18st to the party – a factor in his selection over the lighter, faster Dylan Hartley. As for the midfield selection, Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall would have been heavy enough to play in the second row of the scrum in ages past.

On the debit side of the ledger, half a dozen of the first-choice team – Hape, Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Ben Youngs, Dan Cole and Courtney Lawes – will find themselves in virgin territory on Saturday. None of them have faced the All Blacks before, and as Johnson, the manager, acknowledged yesterday, there will be a sink-or-swim element to the proceedings.

"In the end, it comes down to how they handle playing against the No 1 side in the world," he said. "They should be excited about it: as a youngster, you grow up wanting to face the All Blacks, don't you? But while it's important to realise they're ranked No 1 for a reason, it's also important to understand that they're still a rugby team. Our challenge is to hit the ground running after four months away from the Test environment. A big part of that is people accepting that they're international players all the year round, not just when they come into camp."

Interestingly, in light of this, Johnson named two uncapped forwards on his bench: the Gloucester lock Dave Attwood and the Leeds flanker Hendre Fourie.

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower