The England dossiers - how can the All Blacks win?
James Mortimer 11 Nov 2013 Getty Images
Four times (2005, 2006, 2010 and 2012) the All Blacks have only lost once in a calendar year, four times have they lost just twice (2004, 2007, 2008 and 2011), and in that time for the most part only three nations had tasted success against New Zealand in a ten year period.
That was until England inflicted on the World Champions their worst defeat since 1999, and while some excuses could be made, these All Blacks don’t believe in such rhetoric and know they were on that day beaten by the hungrier, more desperate men.
The House of Lancaster has lost only six of 21 Tests, and revived English Test rugby, getting results and playing a brand that is pulling in mammoth crowds to the Cabbage Path.
Things are different this time, so instantly predictions are difficult as the preparation, last 12 months and respective headspaces and form cannot be compared.
The reality is however is that these two teams are the top two 'form' sides of the 2013 season.
The Red Rose was wilting last year before the All Blacks arrived, having won only five of 11, while critically their best result in five matches against the Springboks and Wallabies was a draw.
Everything changed after that 38-21 celebration as the World Champions fell to the canvas, and hard.
Since then it has been a comfortable suggestion to say that England could build into a legitimate World Cup contender in their own backyard in 2015, with just one blemish on their record since taking the biggest scalp of all.
That loss, to Wales in the Six Nations finale, showed that the exuberance that played such a big part in their win over New Zealand won’t function when a team roars, well, like the Red Dragons only could and did.
With a Grand Slam on the line, one would suspects in Cardiff no-one would have beaten Warren Gatland’s men that day.
Led by a functioning rush defence, ample aggression via Wales plentiful options in the back row, and some tactical calm from the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, it showed how England is not quite the behemoth some would have us believe.
Further to this was how the Springboks effectively overpowered England, and while the All Blacks struggled to impose their muscle on the Red Rose a year ago, it was hardly as if the hosts smashed New Zealand to the turf with raw might.
They tactically outplayed and outthought a New Zealand side that Hansen admitted had telegraphed a fair amount of their style while embedding an approach which was quite different from the 2011 hybrid of the All Blacks.
So we have four key points - rule the ruck, give them the scare defensively, make sure you have a good plan, and muscle up.
An equation built to beat England, if not any team, and a quartet of principles that the All Blacks proud themselves on.
Finally, the team last season was had also been largely intact, a recognised principle under New Zealand for some time that the elite XV is rolled out more often than not, but this time around an advance party was sent, no doubt with England partly in mind.
There are few excuses for the All Blacks this time around to be tired, for the Japanese and French Tests had secondary objectives to ease players into action, with Hansen acknowledged.
“We had, I think, 12 out of 15 having their first game (against France) for about three weeks,” he said.
“I knew we wouldn't be as sharp as we probably could be. Hence our timing at times yesterday and our running lines at times weren't quite right.”
The English legs had more zest in them last time around, something that the All Blacks will ensure doesn’t repeat itself this time around.
Equally, the hosts are coming into this match with the same winning feeling that surrounds the World Champions, which could paradoxically be a big problem for England – for their desperation led to supreme confidence when they realised they could top their season off with a win over the All Blacks.
Before their All Blacks win England had won just one of six Tests (against Fiji).
This year there is no surprise waiting at Twickenham, and it wouldn’t be a far-fetched suggestion to say that this match has always been underlined by the World Champions.
There is no Manu Tuilagi who spearheaded the English offence, and no Brad Barritt who was their defensive rock, while young Owen Farrell can be shaken despite his growing rock star status.
If a Wallabies back row can unsettle his play as they did at times, then the All Blacks loose forwards will rate their chances.
Those who believe England can win will suggest that their first steps towards victory will come in the scrum exchanges, but despite any thought of weakness here from the best team in the world, there needs to be a reminder of the All Blacks changes over recent months.
Sheer forward might for the men in black may have been slightly compromised, but the width, unpredictability and aerial abilities of the All Blacks in 2013 – via the lineout and the boot – means that English intelligence will be different to what it was last season.
Some teams have ambushed the All Blacks throughout their proud history, but few have conquered them when whisperings of revenge or the feeling of a point to be made hangs around this New Zealand team.
A fair amount went England’s way with the ebb and flow of the match last year; one suspects that even if it takes a terrifying battle of attrition up front, the All Blacks will grind the momentum of the Test to their advantage no matter what the cost.
For a match like this, fireworks may not ignite from the World Champions, but the grunt of their engine and determination will be clearly obvious when the teams begin battle this weekend at Twickenham.
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