A year ago, England trounced New Zealand 38-21 – the only side to have beaten the 2011 World Champions, who are unbeaten this year.
The sides meet at Twickenham on Saturday for a rematch. Both teams have targeted this game. And there are a multitude of factors that point at this being the best match of the Northern Tours.
Last year, England had been playing poorly, winning just one of their previous six Tests, against Fiji.
England not only out-played the All Blacks, they out-thought them. By contrast, the All Blacks were coming to the end of a long season, and it is reported that most of the squad had a virus.
The comprehensive victory has led to further England success—they have won 9 of 10 Tests played.
The loss was to a rampant Wales in the Final of the Six Nations.
England is without star centre Manu Tuilagi.
The All Blacks have lost some of their traditional forward might, but they have expanded their game, striking with well-executed, back moves, supported by intelligent kicking.
Their strongest asset may be their desire for revenge. The All Blacks have the ability to beat England – and the desire.
The teams are the form sides for a battle of the hemispheres—so it is a high-stakes game.
As well, England are set on turning their home ground into Fortress Twickenham, consciously following in the footsteps of the 2003 England side that won the rugby World Cup in Sydney.
That team won 22 consecutive games at Twickenham in the lead-up to the last-minute victory over Australia in the Cup Final.
England captain Chris Robshaw said he and his team-mates grew up admiring the 2003 side. Many of the side’s rugby dreams were built on “seeing what they did”.
“We’ve got a long way to go but hopefully we can start to create that,” he said. “I believe we are getting there.”
By contrast, the All Blacks rarely look further forward than the next game—at least publicly.
But All Black coach Steve Hansen acknowledged his side was targeting this game, saying they had built into the tour playing Japan then France, last Saturday (Nov 9).
New Zealand deserved to beat France 26-19, but it was a hard game. Twelve of the starting 15 were having their first outing for several weeks.
“I knew we wouldn’t be as sharp as we probably could be,” Hansen said, which affected that both timing and execution.
The teams were 9-all at half-time, with France captain Terry Dusatoir matching All Black captain Richie McCaw.
All Black Corey Jane returned on the wing after a prolonged injury break – and was soon displaying his almost magical skills, by almost scoring an impossible try after a kick, regather and high-flying dive.
Two weeks ago, England defeated Australia 20-13, ending their dream of a “grand slam”—the beating of the four UK sides.
Both sides played poorly, with England being the less-poor. Last Saturday Australia defeated Italy 50-20.
Last Saturday England beat Argentina 31-12. In the first half, England dominated and looked set to steal the game. But after the break, Argentina fought their way back into the match.
Neither England nor New Zealand is in top form, which opens the door for an unlikely England victory.
Australia play Ireland and South Africa play Scotland.
Last Saturday South Africa defeated Wales 24-15, with two Japan-based veterans, centre Jaque Fourie and half-back Fourie du Preez playing well on their return to the Springboks.
Against Scotland, the great lock Bakkies Botha will return. Botha, 34, plays for Toulon. He is not only an outstanding player he is an old-style enforcer.
Peter Lalanabaravi is a rugby writer with over 30 years experience.