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.

Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
PROMOTED VIDEO
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

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, say DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin