England can end tour on a high if they can stitch 80 minutes together against the All Blacks


The Test series has been in the All Black safe since last weekend’s one-point victory in the South Island’s wintry depths, but the world champions have yet to shake themselves free of a determined challenge to their sense of superiority.

If England can find a way of winning today’s confrontation at the Waikato Stadium – their first international visit to the North Island’s third largest city – there is no telling how the future might unfold.

To stand any chance, they must avoid conceding points in a flurry. Time and again under Stuart Lancaster’s stewardship – against the Springboks in Johannesburg two years ago, against the French in Paris in February, against these opponents at Twickenham before Christmas – they have fallen apart, tactically and defensively, for just long enough to make life impossible for themselves. It happened again in Dunedin seven days ago, when they allowed New Zealand’s playmakers to run riot for 20 minutes at the start of the second half.

Over the long stretch of a great career in rugby league, Andy Farrell learnt all about the subtle shifts and changes of balance that decide matters in the international arena. That knowledge is priceless. “In rugby at the highest level, your opponents are going to have their purple patches,” said Lancaster’s second in command yesterday. “We’ve shown an ability to bring those purple patches to an end and find our way back into games, but we’ve allowed them to go on a little too long. When teams are smelling a weakness in us, we need to spot it early and react immediately.”

If England had done that in Dunedin, today’s match might have been a series decider. It is a highly significant game for both nations anyway.

Having lost both senior half-backs to injury at the start of the week – Danny Care’s shoulder problems and Owen Farrell’s strained knee ligaments were always likely to open the door for Ben Youngs and Freddie Burns – the tourists also saw Geoff Parling disappear off the teamsheet yesterday.

If neither Care nor Farrell was at the peak of his powers last time out, the Lions lock was, both as line-out organiser-in-chief and as an open-field tackler, where he was credited with more than 20 successful interventions.

While Parling’s twanged hamstring was not obvious at the time, it was to anyone who saw him hobbling off the midweek flight to Hamilton. England will miss his clarity and authority, but the misfortune at least gives Joe Launchbury an opportunity to reclaim some ground lost over the last couple of weeks.

Launchbury, a magnificent contributor through the autumn internationals and the Six Nations, looked tired in the opening Test in Auckland and was noticeably off his game in Dunedin, hence the initial decision to relegate him to the bench for this one. “He was gutted not to be in the starting line-up, but he knows the reasons,” Farrell said bluntly. “Now that he’s finished licking his wounds, I’m sure we’ll see him play with real hunger.”

The All Blacks are never less than ravenous. This vintage may be nearer the end of something than the start of it as Richie McCaw and Tony Woodcock begin to fall off their standards, but the warrior spirit will be the last of their virtues to fade away. As usual, they begin a game in front of their own as warm favourites and as usual only a fool would bet heavily against them. But England have a shot, just as they had in Dunedin. If they deliver the 80-minute performance Lancaster craves, rather than another 60-minute one, it could be very tight indeed.

The teams

England M Brown; C Ashton, M Tuilagi, K Eastmond, M Yarde; F Burns, B Youngs; J Marler, D Hartley, D Wilson,  C Lawes, J Launchbury, T Wood, C Robshaw, B Vunipola. Replacements R Webber, M Mullan, K Brookes, D Attwood, B Morgan, L Dickson, D Cipriani, L Burrell.

New Zealand B Smith; C Jane, M Fekitoa, Ma’a Nonu, J Savea; A Cruden, A Smith; T Woodcock, D Coles, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, J Kaino, R McCaw, K Read. Replacements K Mealamu, W Crockett, C Faumuina, P Tuipulotu, L Messam, TJ Perenara, B Barrett, R Crotty.


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

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral