Inside England's strategy to halt the All Blacks at Eden Park

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New Zealand did just enough to break the rush defence shackles to emerge a one-point winner in the first Test in Dunedin at the weekend. However, they face an England side wanting a piece of history by denying the All Blacks another win in Auckland.

England assistant coach Felix Jones, a former Ireland international with 13 Tests who was forced out of rugby due to a neck injury, was part of the Springboks' 2023 World Cup-winning coaching group and is the mastermind of the defensive system.

He defined his system based on the premise that rugby was ultimately a contest between ball carrier and tackler.

Defence aimed to deny opponents time and space, but how often that was achieved depended on how well teams tackled.

Playing New Zealand sides offered the most demanding challenge because of their handling ability and capacity for punishing mistakes.

Jones told the English media, "Any time you play against New Zealand, you have to be right at your upper levels—tactically, execution-wise, physically, and intensity—to be in the mix with it.

"They have a skill set that is on top of the world. I'm talking [about] handling, footwork and their identification of space. Their physical abilities, intensity and desperation to win are also right at the upper level.

"That makes them very difficult."

Jones acknowledged there was a risk and reward in his system.

"There is risk, but if you back off too much for fear of making an error, they are going to punish you in any case."

Centre Henry Slade is crucial to the system's implementation.

England coach Steve Borthwick said, "He is key along with Felix in terms of helping other players develop into our defensive system."

Borthwick said exposing their defensive style to the All Blacks was their toughest test yet, and Dunedin showed they needed to improve their tackle completion.

"The speed they have, the agility they have and the ball-handling skills they have put you under a real test. A lot of the players had not experienced that until Saturday. We will be better for that experience."


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