Two heavyweights are ready to collide - Kayes

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Keen to get his views on the fractious state of the rivalry between the two heavyweights of world rugby, I lobbed a rather pointed question into the mix.

 

The All Blacks wing and former cricket played a straight bat and, when I pushed, gave me a look that said, “just wait mate”.

 

I backed out and when the media scrum dissipated he wandered over and opened up.

 

Wilson had made his All Blacks debut on the tour to England and Scotland in 1993, and was on the wing and the goal kicker when they lost 15-9 in the Test at Twickenham.

 

There was no love between the two teams he admitted.  It’s what he was told when he came into the All Blacks and that feeling had increased from an All Blacks perspective throughout his career.

 

What was seen as England celebrating after the 26-26 draw at Twickenham two years earlier was a low point and the fires were being stoked ahead of the World Cup match.

Prop Craig Dowd backed up Wilson’s comments making it pretty clear this was a grudge match even if the grudge was hard to define.

 

These days the rivalry is largely played out in the media as it’s virtually a non-event for the players as so few Tests are played between the two nations.

 

The record is also heavily weighted in the All Blacks favour.

 

There was a run of nine wins from 2004 to 2012 and the All Blacks go into Saturday’s World Cup semifinal in Yokohama having won their last six Tests against England and 15 of the previous 16.

 

There’s also less of the personal animosity these days.

 

Part of that is because they play each other so rarely.  Last year’s Test at Twickenham was the first in four years, though there were four Tests in 2014.

 

It was then that lock Brodie Retallick got tangled on the first name of lock Courtney Lawes when he was asked to name his opposite number and called him Michael Laws.

 

“Learn our names next time,” was England loose forward James Haskell’s pointed comment to Retallick after the first Test at Eden Park.

 

"It turns out, of course, that Retallick is a top man and an even better player," Haskell wrote in his Daily Mail column.

 

"At the time, it struck me as a bit of Kiwi arrogance, but after speaking to people I realised that it's because they just focus on what they do. They look at opposition threats but they don't care about anyone else."

 

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen admitted their southern hemisphere foes were a more natural rival for his team.

 

"I think South Africa is always going to be our biggest rival because of all the history that comes with it and because we play each other so regularly. I think we've played England once in the last six years so it's hard to build a rivalry when you don't play each other.”

 

Skipper Kieran Read’s played more Tests against Wales, France and Ireland than he has against England and those eight Tests pale alongside the 22 against South Africa and 34 Bledisloe Cup Tests.

 

It’s the same for lock Sam Whitelock whose 116 Tests include 29 against Australia and 20 against South Africa and just eight against England.

"Four, five years ago we played them four times in one year and everyone said we played them too much, and in the next couple of years they were saying we never played them at all,” Whitelock noted.

 

“But the couple of times I have been lucky enough to play against them, they've got a great forward pack, and can play a couple of different styles.

 

"They can play very direct, scrum, maul, lineout, all those things, but they've also got quality players who can change the game with the bounce of a ball or a back strike move. 

 

“The teams that are hardest to play against have a couple of different styles and they can change within a game which style they play. 

“We've just got to be ready for whatever they throw at us."

 

England coach Eddie Jones has done his best to stoke the fire ahead of this test, claiming England were spied on earlier in the week and that all the pressure was on the All Blacks as they chase a third consecutive World Cup title.

 

For Whitelock that pressure is something to enjoy.

 

“Playing England in a knockout game at a Rugby World Cup is massive,” he said. 

 

“It will be one of the biggest games we’ve been involved in as players, so how exciting is that."


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Jim Kayes

@JimKayes
Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport. He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.

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