James Mortimer 11.Nov.2013Getty Images
The world’s number one ranked team, approaching what could be a four-year anniversary at the top of the global rankings, did not have the gods looking upon them last time they landed in one of the oldest cities in the civilised world.
'England know the All Blacks will be highly motivated and have damaged pride, two aspects that make the World Champions far more dangerous than any player could'
Fatigue was on the player’s minds to the point of it being mentioned in media conferences, there was the bout of sickness that struck almost every player in the squad, and then there was that half of rugby where the All Blacks looked like anything but.
There were more mistakes made in 40 minutes that the team would make in a handful of Test matches, and ill-discipline didn’t help with England kicking three penalties while Owen Farrell had the game of his life, striking over a drop goal to boot in the first half.
From Aaron Smith being ‘sacked’ at the ruck, Julian Savea’s charge down kick, Keven Mealamu’s over throws, Dan Carter’s two straight misses from positions he would normally succeed at, to a defensive effort that saw that typical Kiwi sting missing.
History doesn't support such flat All Blacks performances.
The men in black though responded, which in hindsight made England’s victory more impressive, with two tries to Savea in Kieran Read in three minutes in the second half hinting at the grandest of fightbacks.
Indeed, it was a 26-21 second stanza, an improvement on the 12-0 half time score, but no amount of statistical sugar coating can deny it was a formidable performance from the Red Rose who bloomed under an All Black spotlight.
Much has changed, even if sanity has been long restored.
Before losing to England at Twickenham last year the All Blacks had not lost an autumn Test in a decade, were on a 20-match unbeaten run, and had completed what was almost a perfect season.
Since that dark London evening the World Champions have won twelve consecutive Tests, completed what is the most impressive ‘first half’ of a Webb Ellis holder’s reign, but most important, have not stood still.
Not merely content with evolving their game, they have looked to add a cloak of secrecy as to how openly they play, ensuring that they become harder to garn intelligence from, and cannot have specific moves or set plays decoded so easily.
This has been while ensuring that development continues, while if anything their fast phase running attack, shackled effectively by the trench warfare on the fields of Paris admittedly, has evolved even further, with the ball carrying brilliance of the team often match winning.
Some might argue that the loose hands of the All Blacks forwards, and the fact that the team possesses perhaps the best lineout in the world – a statement backed by the form of the likes of Read, Whitelock and Retallick in the air – has come at a small cost in regards to another set piece.
Balance is a necessary beast in rugby.
The All Blacks scrum, hardly a backtracking force, has been given examinations that have dented its formidable aura, but history shows that sometimes give and take is necessary.
It was current head coach Steve Hansen who for years as forward’s mentor of the team worked with the likes of Mike Cron to re-establish the prowess of the team up front in the primeval exchanges.
Of late however there has been a noticeable work on with skill and fitness levels, as well as the team's aerial work, now of a standard that comfortably supports what has been one of the better All Blacks kicking games ever seen.
A fully changed pack in Japan and tricky underfoot conditions didn't allow the All Blacks to set the platform that lets them to go about their usual business.
This could be an England target, but their coach Stuart Lancaster is far too canny to believe that victory can be won off that platform alone.
They know the All Blacks will be highly motivated and have damaged pride, two aspects that make the World Champions far more dangerous than any player or special tactical move could.
Revenge isn’t a word bandied around the visitor's camp but the simple statement that they hate losing is being uttered more as the build-up intensifies.
An English blitzkrieg won’t work this year, they know that they will have to knuckle down far more to beat an All Blacks side that hasn’t lost back-to-back matches against the Red Rose since Martin Johnson led his team to victories in 2002 and 2003.
Just prior to an England World Cup win.
This time around the All Blacks are the benchmark, a tag they have reclaimed since their London reverse, and play the penultimate Test before wrapping up the halfway point of their championship reign.
To fall at the home of English rugby again, the venue where the next World Cup will be decided will be quite simply unacceptable to this All Blacks team, especially on what is likely to be Daniel Carter’s 100th Test match.
But Lancaster and his troops, despite having the same inexperience that had this time last season (the All Blacks are on track again to field a side with triple the caps), have had a taste of what it is like to be among the select who have taken a New Zealand scalp.
If they can drink from that cup again this weekend, the balance of power will again be turned on its head.
Rumours suggest England immediately began training after their Argentine win, while there has been a noticeable set in the jaw of every All Black who has been asked about this weekend’s opponents.
An epic Test approaches.
ARRIVAL: @izzy_dagg & @DanCarter head thru King's Cross to the team bus. #fanwelcome pic.twitter.com/vIA7nupzJH— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) November 10, 2013