England versus New Zealand Match Preview

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LONDON, ENGLAND – Last year, England shocked the rugby world when they trounced the All Blacks at Twickenham, 38-24, with a comprehensive display of attacking prowess. Since that time, the England squad have only lost one match, an absolute shocker to Wales in the Grand Slam decider which will linger in English memory for years to come. New Zealand have not lost again since that early December day, and are aiming to finish 2013 undefeated. The stage is set for a magnificent clash between two titans of the sport, and RugbyWrapUp is here to break the battle down with our match preview.

Hartley scored last weekend on his way to Man of the Match
Hartley scored last weekend on his way to Man of the Match

Front Row

England will be seriously outclassed in the front row, with loosehead prop a particular concern. Mako Vunipola and Alex Corbesiero have been forced to withdraw entirely, and Joe Marler suffered a concussion against the Pumas,  so Stuart Lancaster has been forced to call Matt Mullen into the squad. Dylan Hartley had a man of the match performance last weekend, and will be looking to cement his position as England’s starting hooker ahead of the Six Nations. Dan Cole came on in the second half against Argentina and played well, but his performance is almost always solid, and rarely spectacular. An exception came last year against the All Blacks, when Cole was all over the park, turning over balls at the ruck. England’s front three will need to bring their best, as New Zealand’s Tony Woodcock, Kevin Mealamu, and Owen Franks form a well-tested trio. New Zealand did endure a difficult time in the scrum against Argentina during the Rugby Championship, but expect them to get the better of England’s pack throughout much of the game. One of England’s better hopes will be that the decrease in scrum penalties (last week’s farce perpetuated by the always suspect Alain Rolland not-withstanding) occurring throughout world rugby ensures they don’t give away too many on Saturday.

Advantage: New Zealand

Whitelock jumps in the lineout for the All Blacks
Whitelock jumps in lineout for All Blacks

Second Row

Lawes and Launchbury combined well for a second consecutive week, and Geoff Parling may be on the outside looking in through no fault of his own. Launchbury was rewarded for his graft with a first international try last weekend, and Lawes’ familiarity with his hooker led to more comfort in the lineout for the English.  Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock have partnered exceptionally well for New Zealand in the past, and once again their familiarity will be a huge asset for the All Blacks. Retallick in particular was impressive against France on the weekend, and though Les Bleus ran New Zealand close, the Kiwis ability at the breakdown was a key component of their ability to hang on at the finish. Off the bench, Luke Romano can provide a big lift in the second half, and the clash between the two second rows promises to be a fascinating contest.

Advantage: New Zealand

Robshaw wants to prove England worthy opponents on Saturday
Robshaw wants to prove England worthy opponents on Saturday

Back Row

England’s back row has never been the most technically gifted group in world rugby. Compare that the enviable talent of Richie McCaw, Liam Messam, and Kieran Reid, and you would seemingly have the makings of a sadly lopsided battle. However, the heart displayed by Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood cannot and should not be discounted, especially given the England captain’s performance in the corresponding fixture last year. Reid is a man in form, and some have called him the best player in world rugby based on recent results . That may be hyperbole, but it is difficult to deny that he had a spectacular Rugby Championship campaign and will be looking to continue his run as a leader in this All Black side. McCaw will bring his typical excellence to the game, and his hiatus seems to have reinvigorated the New Zealand captain. Last year, the All Black back row was exhausted by illness and a ridiculous fixture list heading into the match against England. This year, they seem to be hitting their stride. The heart of Robshaw, Wood, and Vunipola may not be a match for the technical brilliance of New Zealand’s pride and joy.

Advantage: New Zealand

Dan Carter will win his 100th cap on Saturday
Dan Carter will win his 100th cap on Saturday

Halfbacks

England’s pairing of Lee Dickson and Owen Farrell has been underwhelming, to say the least. Though Miles Harrison was effusive in his praise of Dickson in the first period, the scrum half’s performance did not seem to warrant such accolades: he was frankly quite ordinary against a poor Argentine side. Farrell made his kicks and connected much better with his centers, but he will need to step up another level or three if the England back line is to get firing against New Zealand. Dan Carter is obviously the best fly half to currently play the game, though he, like most of the All Blacks, endured a terrible game last year at Twickenham. Aaron Smith continues at number nine for New Zealand, and will try to give his backs quick ball to take advantage of channels out wide. Should Ben Youngs start, the contest will be slightly more even, but he is expected to be on the bench given his recent injury woes.

Advantage: New Zealand

Tomkins claims that both tests have been mere preparation for the clash against the All Blacks
Tomkins claims that both tests have been mere preparation for the clash against the All Blacks

Centers and Back Three

New Zealand’s advantage in the centers is so large that to compare the teams would be a farce. Some day, Joel Tomkins may be a legitimate threat at the Test level. Almost certainly, that day will not come this weekend. Billy Twelvetrees improved massively against Argentina, but that was a low bar to clear. While Ma’a Nonu and Ben Smith are not the most formidable pairing the All Blacks have ever put on the field, particularly given Nonu’s recent struggles, they should be more than a match for the England pair. The back three probably forms the most even matchup on the field. Mike Brown impressed again, and Israel Dagg has not been at his best this year. On the wings, Steve Hansen has a legitimate selection dilemma, but will likely go with Cory Jane and fit again Julian Salvea. England will run out Chris Ashton and Ben Foden, as Christian Wade and Marland Yarde again failed late fitness tests. Ashton got a much needed try against the Pumas, but it was not exactly a difficult chance. Foden held down his wing well, but the pair will likely be asked to do much defensively, an area which was alarming last weekend.

Advantage: New Zealand

Prediction

Perhaps its unsurprising that the reigning world champions are given the advantage in every facet of the game on paper. England can take comfort in the fact that similar analyses performed last year came up with the same results, before Twickenham was stunned by an amazing display. Anything could happen, but the likeliest result is a handsome New Zealand victory, and a long two and a half months before the start of the Six Nations for an England side that must find more fluency to truly threaten in 2015.

That’s it for now… feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @RugbyWrapUpJunoir BlaberDJ EberleNick HallJames HarringtonCody Kuxmann and Declan Yeats, respectively.

 

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About Nicholas Hall 143 Articles
Nick is a senior rugby player at Wheaton College in MA, which is in the Colonial Coast Conference. After being in the slightly less physical "sport" of speech and debate in high school, Nick began playing rugby sophomore year at Wheaton. In addition to writing for RugbyWrapUp.com, Nick writes for the Wheaton Wire - the campus paper.

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