Lewis Moody on England v New Zealand: Fortress Twickenham faces its ultimate test on Saturday and England must be sharper to withstand the ruthless All Blacks
The home side have produced two good halves out of four with Australia and Argentina
Thursday 14 November 2013
You can't complain about an autumn that has so far produced two wins from two – and that is now six in a row at Twickenham. So Stuart Lancaster's England are without doubt building a home fortress like the coach wants, but what is not clear yet is just how formidable that fortress is, and that is something this weekend will go some way to establishing.
The injury list does muddy the picture a little. Any side would miss the likes of Alex Corbisiero, Mako Vunipola as well as, among others, Manu Tuilagi and Tom Croft, but New Zealand will always be a benchmark and the absentees will certainly give Lancaster an idea as to whether he has the depth of squad he craves.
England, as they admit themselves, have produced two good halves out of their four against Australia and Argentina. So what needs to be better against the All Blacks? They have to improve on their execution of the skills. Last Saturday they were admirably keen to play the expansive game they had rehearsed in training, to get into the wide channels and play as quickly as possible. They did that in the first half but in the second there were loose balls, misses, mistakes and opportunities went begging. They cannot afford to do that this Saturday.
It is good to see a keenness to move the ball but they have to be sharper. With Billy Twelvetrees, a player who likes to gets his hands on the ball and distribute, at 12 it gives England two fly-half opportunities. That worked much better last weekend at getting the ball wide but what was lacking was some direct running. The ball was moved quickly along the line to the edges, but there was not anyone cutting hard lines back infield to hold the defenders – that creates the opportunities for when you get out to the wings. New Zealand will give you those edges to play in, their wingers tend to sit back a bit, so if you can get some hard running from the centres, or Billy Vunipola or the second rows running lines in midfield, it is going to hold those defenders in and create opportunities out wide.
I would love to see Ben Foden and Mike Brown get more ball and more opportunities to attack, while having two full-backs against a team like New Zealand has another advantage. The All Blacks kick the ball more than any other side. There is a perception of New Zealand that they run it all the time and play amazing rugby. Yes, they play amazing rugby but it is because they are clinical and know how to take opportunities that arise. When they kick they kick to regain – they are looking for the opponents to return it to touch and then they get control of the game, or they put it high and contest it, so having Foden and Brown to deal with the high ball will help England.
This is a big game for two partnerships in the backs – the centres and the half-backs. Twelvetrees bounced back well against Argentina. It was an impressive show of mental strength after his performance against Australia and he needs to up his game even further on Saturday. We need to see more of Joel Tomkins too, getting him into the game more – via Twelvetrees or Owen Farrell – so he can use that dangerous offload. It is a huge game for the midfield two, as it is for Farrell and Lee Dickson. I would prefer to see Ben Youngs start because he brings more unpredictability and attacking threat but Dickson has been consistent and has bossed his pack well. Like Tomkins, though, we need to see more of him in attack.
One of the big positives against Argentina was the dominance of the pack. The control the forwards exercised at the maul – against a side that have always been highly effective at destroying mauls and putting forward packs under pressure – was impressive. It is too easy as an individual to break out from a maul. Courtney Lawes and Chris Robshaw were in positions where they could have broken out and gone to deck or had a go themselves, but they were patient and let the forwards regroup around them, which set up the first try. The best teams have always been the patient teams.
That will be key against New Zealand, be patient and take your chance when it comes – that is what they do and it is why they are the best in the world. If a chance comes, bang, they take it. I have seen them defending, defending, defending, the turnover comes and they are away. They have an incredible ability to be clinical when an opportunity arises. We saw that against France on Saturday and have seen it on numerous occasions. That is why England have to be accurate, mind every play, mind every execution, whether it is passing or tackling or the defensive line – in that it will be interesting to see how they contest the breakdown. Against Argentina, England committed just one or two players at the breakdown; a year ago against the All Blacks they piled in and that helped set up the victory as they earned a number of key turnovers. I suspect they will go back to what they did last year but, whichever approach they choose, they must be clinical. New Zealand need only a sniff of an opportunity.
But as France showed at the weekend they are not out of reach, they can be beaten. On Saturday there is the chance to do what no England side has done in a decade and record back-to-back wins over the All Blacks. Do that and it really will be Fortress Twickenham.
This is not about Carter's 100th cap, his team want revenge
What can you say about Dan Carter other than he is the best? The All Blacks' No 10 is what he is – a consistent machine, collecting points, making opportunities, kicking out of hand, making the decisions – when to kick and when to run.
He is a complete player and has the intelligence to go with it. The quality fly-half always seems to have time on his side and makes the game look easy. No one makes it look as easy as Carter does.
But New Zealand are not here for Carter, despite what they might keep saying in public. There has been plenty in the papers from them saying they can't help thinking of Carter's big moment, his 100th cap, and that this return to Twickenham has nothing to do with revenge for what happened last year.
Don't believe if for a second. New Zealand are hungry for this. They hate losing. There is a huge amount of revenge in their minds, whether they admit it or not. That will be driving them this week.
Do they want to go out and have a performance for Dan Carter? I don't think so, and I don't think Carter would want that. They want to go out and win because they expect to go out and win every time.
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