England tour of New Zealand: Red-rose dare to dream of glory deep in enemy territory

Tourists' strong show in first Test lifts hopes of reversing poor record in south

dunedin

"When poked at with a stick, the tuatara will emerge." The All Blacks have never been slow to fall back on an old Maori saying when they go in search of their "mana" – their sense of authority, their status, their prestige – and it may well be that this intriguing phrase has been uppermost in their minds since winning narrowly in Auckland six days ago. The tuatara is an indigenous reptile, enshrined in New Zealand lore as a harbinger of death and disaster. England supporters will get the point.

Saturday's game here in the South Island, the second Test of three, is likely to be very hard indeed. England are bristling with hostile intent after the near miss at Eden Park left them with jumbled-up emotions: encouraged, on the one hand, by the resourcefulness of their performance in the absence of so many leading players; profoundly deflated, on the other, by the nature of the defeat. The New Zealanders, meanwhile, have been cut to the quick by an unusually critical reaction from their own kith and kin.

The idea that the tourists are daring to think in terms of victory in a city that has given them nothing but trouble and strife – they have played here only twice at international level, conceding precisely 100 points – would, under normal circumstances, be enough to send the average stern-faced Otago farmer into fits of laughter. But it looks and smells different this time around. England, beefed up by the return of competitors as relentless as the outside-half Owen Farrell and the blind-side flanker Tom Wood, believe this is their moment.

"I felt we had the better of New Zealand last weekend," said Wood, who watched the Eden Park Test from the stand, having arrived late on tour after leading Northampton to their first Premiership title at Twickenham. "The All Blacks have proved how dangerous they are at the back end of matches on countless occasions, but we never accept losing, regardless of the opposition. To fail again would be very painful, because we didn't come here to lose any game, let alone two on the bounce and leave ourselves staring down the barrel of a 3-0 series defeat.

"We are custodians of the shirt for only a short time, and it's down to us to show the next generation of England players the path: to pave the way for them so they can walk a little taller when they're chosen to represent their country. So we're here to win. That means getting our detail and process right: we'll be looking for good set-piece ball and gain-line success, which will help us generate momentum. If we can do that…"

Children perform a traditional Maori greeting to England players in Dunedin Children perform a traditional Maori greeting to England players in Dunedin (Getty Images)
None of those things will come easily to England, even though they are fielding, for the first time since Stuart Lancaster assumed control of red rose affairs, the back division of their dreams. By restoring Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell to the centre positions and moving Manu Tuilagi to the right wing, the tourists have pieced together a threequarter line significantly bigger than the All Black version – no mean feat, given the presence of Ma'a Nonu and Julian Savea in the silver-ferned ranks. But the tale of the tape will not count for much if the world champions win the battle of the little grey cells.

It will count for even less if Richie McCaw and his less-than-merry band of men prevail in the emotional sphere. We can rest assured that the All Blacks will be cold-eyed in their fury, that those senior players castigated for performing well below standard in Auckland – the centre Nonu, the prop Tony Woodcock, even the captain himself – will respond with splinters of ice in the brain, as well as fire in the veins.

Wood, currently enjoying the time of his sporting life after a series of momentous victories at club level, understands this only too well: an important part of his rugby upbringing was spent in this very corner of New Zealand, with the Oamaru club in the north of Otago. "I wanted to separate myself from the herd by doing something different and getting away from home, because you can easily become a robot inside the system," he explained. "This is what helped me grow up as a player and I thank the people here for their efforts. I'd like to think they still have a vested interest in me, that they take some pride in my achievements. I certainly took a lot from them in terms of appreciating the passion they have for the game.

"It's that passion that helps the All Blacks win so many tight games: their winning habit comes from self-belief and from an understanding of what's at stake when they pull on the shirt. So yes, the emotional side of the game will be crucial and we have to get it right. If we do, then it will be a very powerful thing. If we get it wrong, it could undo us."

There are any number of things that could undo England if they are not at their very strongest in mind, body and spirit. Yes, they have a chance of squaring the series on Saturday – certainly their best chance of winning a Test on All Black soil since the World Cup-winning vintage managed it in Wellington back in 2003 – but a hell of a lot will have to go exactly to plan. Beware the tuatara.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
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

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee