Last year a vibrant England put the frighteners on the All Blacks. So can they do it again next week?
England and New Zealand have met in 35 Tests over 108 years and guess how many times the English have won back to back? Once. In November 2002 and June 2003 the soon-to-be World Cup winners captained by Martin Johnson beat the All Blacks at Twickenham (31-28) and in Wellington (15-13) respectively. So it will be a little piece of history if Chris Robshaw's team can follow up their famous 38-21 success last December with a repeat dose this Saturday and in the process improve a dire overall record of seven England wins to New Zealand's 27 with one draw. Can England do it? Last year's match may give a few clues, while form and astute selection will be crucial.
Dealing with the pressure
Former Wallaby fly-half Michael Lynagh commented last week that "England should be the favourites every time they play at Twickenham". But how would they handle the expectation? Sometimes in rugby it pays to be the underdog, turning the strengths of the so-called superior team into weaknesses. Last year England, led by Joe Launchbury and Tom Wood, targeted every All Black ball-carrier ruthlessly, made their tackles stick and concentrated hard on bringing power and intelligence to the breakdown. The spectre of a repeat defeat will be a real motivator for New Zealand's captain Richie McCaw and fly-half Dan Carter. Each man, incredibly, has a better than 88 per cent win rate in Tests.
Farrell must be perfect
In the match 11 months ago the All Blacks were on top in the first 25 minutes but made one crass mistake after another: Cory Jane kicked into touch from outside his 22; Aaron Smith box-kicked badly in the England 22; and Carter had a shocker with the kicking tee, missing two presentable penalties. That was followed by Keven Mealamu's botched line-out in the England half. It highlighted the groove Owen Farrell was in, kicking three penalties and a drop for a 12-0 lead after New Zealand's only scoreless first half in the last 15 years. Can the world-record Test points scorer Carter possibly be as generous again? If Farrell collects every point on offer, England have a chance.
Tales of the unexpected
New Zealand made no excuses last year despite the fact that all but two members of their squad had been hit by the Norovirus vomiting and diarrhoea bug. Also Carter had missed the two previous games with a calf problem and there was an undercurrent of aggro over the hooker Andrew Hore's violent tackle against Wales. Assuming no one slips a mickey finn in the All Blacks' tea this week they will arrive in better health. England? This time last year they were fired up by the embarrassment of losses to Australia and South Africa. The reverse is the case now, as Robshaw's men chase a very rare hat-trick against southern hemisphere opposition.
Stand up and be counted
England need a reprise of their back-rowers Wood and Robshaw jolting New Zealand backwards in and after the tackle. The home scrum and driving maul must also go well again. But can anyone see Joel Tomkins doing the job of England's injured wrecking-ball of a centre Manu Tuilagi, who terrorised Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and the All Black loose forwards into uncharacteristic cock-ups? Tuilagi scored one and helped make the other two England's tries last time. Smith is absent too now but his namesake Ben will ask questions of England's midfield. And the other Smith — scrum-half Aaron — won't want to be dominated by England's scrum-half Ben Youngs again. Perhaps it is time for a new hero? The increasingly assured Courtney Lawes, perhaps. Or could the monumentally inexperienced No 8 Billy Vunipola take a chunk out of his illustrious opposite number, Kieran Read?
You snooze, you lose
Be very afraid if New Zealand resume in the same vein they finished in at Twickenham in 2012. A brilliant last 10 minutes showcased the pace and handling epitomised now by the rubber-limbed Charles Piutau. If the newbie Auckland wing and the better known full-back Israel Dagg hit the turf running, it will take every bit of the home team's togetherness for English lightning to strike twice in the same place.
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