When England line up against New Zealand at Twickenham for the first of this year’s autumn internationals on Saturday, it will not be lost on either team that, if the fixture is to be repeated at next year’s World Cup, the draw indicates it is likely to be in the final.
Assuming, of course, that England get out of a pool containing both Australia and Wales.
Remarkably, England and New Zealand have not met each other in the World Cup knockout stages since a certain Jonah Lomu terrorised them in the semi-final in Cape Town 19 years ago. At the weekend, and maybe next year, a similar force will stand in their way. Steve Hansen, the All Blacks coach, has claimed 24-year-old winger Julian Savea is “probably a better player than Lomu”, but the praise weighs heavy on the young man’s shoulders.
“Everyone has their own opinions and for Steve to say that was an honour and a privilege for me to be compared to him, and for Steve to say I am better,” Savea said. “But for me personally, no-one’s better than Jonah. He was my idol growing up. I had his haircut. He changed the game back in his era and inspired a lot of kids, so to me no-one is ever going to be better than Jonah because he was one in a million.”
England may have lost all three of their Tests in New Zealand over the summer, but on two occasions ran the All Blacks close. Meanwhile, New Zealand lost to South Africa in Johannesburg last month, ending a remarkable two-year unbeaten run.
“I think England’s mindset perhaps has changed,” Kieran Read, the All Blacks No 8 and reigning World Player of the Year, said. “They are more willing to have a decent crack with the ball and they have got some really skillful players now that perhaps they did not have a few years ago. I think they use the ball more, of course they are more dangerous. I think it opens it up for us too, to be honest.”Reuse content