Struggling England need to find higher gear for All Blacks
LONDON (AP) — After a show of extreme resilience resulted in a scarcely deserved victory over South Africa, England will need a broad increase in quality to stand any chance in a long-awaited meeting with New Zealand.
A week on from a 12-11 victory over the Springboks, England return to Twickenham on Saturday to take on the world champion All Blacks for the first time in four years.
Despite England having made just three lineup changes, with one being the injury-enforced replacement of flanker Tom Curry with Sam Underhill, there is likely to be a noticeable alteration in tactics from Eddie Jones’ side.
The backline-dominated running game that England was so keen — but rarely able — to implement against South Africa is set to be replaced by a more cautious kicking-based approach.
The territorial concessions made against the Springboks, which saw England fail to touch the ball in the opposition 22 for the entire first half, will not go unpunished against New Zealand.
“We obviously don’t want to get in that situation,” Jones said. “If we’re in that situation we’ve just got to stay in the fight.”
The boot of Owen Farrell, who continues at flyhalf, along with fellow half Ben Youngs, will be crucial to ensuring England aren’t pinned back once more, with confidence still fragile following a five-match losing run that preceded back-to-back victories over South Africa.
The All Blacks, who last month completed a third successive Rugby Championship triumph and are gearing up to defend the Rugby World Cup next year, appear ready to take advantage of fragility shown by England.
“Playing England at home is always a massive challenge for anybody,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said. “There’ll be 80,000 people there singing songs. The only way we quiet them is by dominating. So at some point they’re going to be singing because we won’t dominate for the whole 80 minutes.”
While a second-string All Blacks side — including eight debutants — routed Japan 69-31 in Tokyo last Saturday, the regulars had already arrived in London and slipped under the radar to watch England in the flesh against South Africa.
One person definitely unaware of their presence was Jones, who said after the game that New Zealand was probably sat at its hotel “eating scones” and would be confident of beating England.
Unfortunately for England, there is no sign of overconfidence emanating from the All Blacks’ camp, partly due to the respect Hansen has for his old mate Jones from a coaching rivalry dating 20 years.
New Zealand’s skillful back three of Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane have been chosen specifically to nullify England’s kicking game, with the former’s inclusion also intended to take pressure off flyhalf Beauden Barrett.
“We want to play two playmakers,” Hansen said. “We think against sides that play a little differently than we do, having two playmakers makes it a lot harder for them to shut us down and also takes away the frustration of that person who is shut down.”
Having acted as a catalyst for England’s second half improvement against South Africa, prop Ben Moon replaces Alec Hepburn, while winger Chris Ashton makes his first start in more than four years in place of Jack Nowell.
England may benefit from having some inside knowledge. Flanker Brad Shields and defensive coach John Mitchell are products of the New Zealand system.
While former All Blacks coach Mitchell has long shared his expertise around the globe, Shields departed his homeland only this year to pursue his dream of playing international rugby.
Despite having played for New Zealand Under-20s before establishing himself as the captain of the Super Rugby Hurricanes, Shields was overlooked at senior level by his country, before opting to take advantage of English-born parents.
“He’s going to be going out facing the haka, facing a team that he’s always wanted to play for, and unfortunately we didn’t pick him,” Hansen said.
“Now he’s got the opportunity to play against them and some of his great mates are in that team. So I think he’ll find it emotional.”
England: Elliot Daly, Chris Ashton, Henry Slade, Ben Te’o, Jonny May, Owen Farrell (co-captain), Ben Youngs; Mark Wilson, Sam Underhill, Brad Shields, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Dylan Hartley (co-captain), Ben Moon. Reserves: Jamie George, Alec Hepburn, Harry Williams, Charlie Ewels, Courtney Lawes, Danny Care, George Ford, Jack Nowell.
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu’inukuafe. Reserves: Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty.