LONDON, ENGLAND/AUCKLAND, NZ – With all due respect to our American hosts, the All Black’s northern hemisphere of 2014 faces it’s real test this weekend at Twickenham against England. Due the magnitude of this match, Rugby Wrap Up will again curl up both fists and hit you with double coverage from both nations: European expert Nicholas Hall will have the inside scoop on the home side while Super Rugby Superman Jamie Wall brings you the latest from the men in black.
England vs. All Blacks, Twickenham. Kick off: 14:30 local, 03:30 NZT. #ENGvNZ
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler
Bench: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 George Kruis, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 George Ford, 23 Anthony Watson
All Blacks: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Bench: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty.
We’ll break down each positional combo:
Nick says: Stuart Lancaster can’t seem to stop tinkering with the wings, and he will use a different combination once again. Marland Yarde was returned to Harlequins for the weekend, a huge surprise, and Jonny May and Semesa Rokoduguni will be starting on the flanks. Rokoduguni will be earning his first cap for England at the age of 27, but the British Army representative has been very impressive for Bath this season. Mike Brown is one of the first names on the English team sheet, and has been a bright spot in a difficult start to the season for Harlequins. He has the ability to change a game at a moment’s notice. May has struggled to make an impact on the wing, and this may be his last chance to impress in an England shirt.
Jamie says: The All Black back three that had a field day last weekend in Chicago contains only one survivor in the form of Israel Dagg. Ben Smith makes a return on the wing after a rest and the ominous Julian Savea comes back in after getting a bit more game time than he thought he would against the Eagles. It goes without saying that England had better make sure their kicking game doesn’t give these guys any room, otherwise this game will be over before you know it.
Nick says: Another place where Lancaster has been forced to make substitutions, this time through injury to his preferred pairing. Manu Tuilagi can’t seem to stay healthy, and is now in jeopardy of earning the dreaded “injury-prone” tag for the rest of his career. Luther Burrell suffered an injury during Northampton’s last ERCC match, and so Lancaster has chosen to start Brad Barritt and Kyle Eastmond. Barritt’s strength is his defense. He starred in England’s famous win against New Zealand in 2012, but struggled to find a place in the squad in 2013, and missed out on the 2014 Six Nations altogether. Eastmond enjoyed a solid first Test against the All Blacks in June, but was yanked at halftime in the embarrassing final test.
Jamie says: The absolute ease of which Sonny Bill Williams slipped back into an All Black jersey last weekend surprised pretty much everyone except himself and makes his inclusion in this week’s lineup a little less of a shock than one might have thought. He’ll link up with the consistent Conrad Smith, one question mark may be over their defensive communication as they have had precious few minutes on the field together.
Nick says: Owen Farrell claims that he is ready to make a big impact for England, and Lancaster will be desperately hoping that is true. The nerveless fly-half has nearly three years of international experience under his belt. Farrell continues to grow as a big game player, and is solidly England’s first choice among a talented group of 10’s. Danny Care has locked down the starting scrum-half slot after an extraordinary year. His tap-and-go’s put enormous pressure on defending teams. His judgement has also improved leaps and bounds from previous years, when his aggression would often cost his team. England’s back up pair, George Ford and Ben Youngs, are also capable of making a mark off the bench, and give Lancaster much needed depth.
Jamie says: Well, it would’ve been fitting to have Dan Carter play in the return match from last year when he cruelly injured himself in his 100th test. Instead the selectors have gone for Aaron Cruden at first five, who had better have been practicing his goal kicking during the week (he couldn’t hit the side of a barn at Soldier Field). Aaron Smith will provide the service from halfback, look for plenty of kicks from the base of the ruck for Savea and Ben Smith to run on to.
Nick says: Another of Lancaster’s firmly established pairings, the back row sees Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood and Billy Vunipola working together. Vunipola is one of the best ball-carriers in the game right now, though his game lacks the all-around polish of his opposite number, Kieran Read. Robshaw emerged from a tough tour of New Zealand with his reputation enhanced. Though he can never seem to shake calls for removal from certain corners, he has earned Lancaster’s trust with consistent displays over the past three years. Wood is a workhorse, and will be all over the park for the entire match. Ben Morgan is one of the better impact subs in world rugby right now. He will ensure England have a reliable attacking option in the final twenty minutes.
Jamie says: Run and hide England. These are the three who will dish out the anger of an entire nation as a result of a foolhardy reporter writing this pathetic and slightly racist piece. McCaw will do the damage in the ruck, Read will run with the ball and offload all day and Kaino will just smash you. To be perfectly honest, they would have done it anyway.
Nick says: What could be one of the strongest areas for England is instead one of their weakest, again thanks to injury. Courtney Lawes and Dave Attwood pair in the second row. While Attwood has been great for Bath, he lacks the international pedigree of Joe Launchbury and Geoff Parling, and is realistically Lancaster’s fourth choice. George Kruis will earn a debut off the bench, but if England are outmuscled up front, supporters will think of what might have been.
Jamie says: It doesn’t get any easier deeper in the engine room for England, with the two best locks the All Blacks have been able to field in many years lining up against what looks to be a depleted home second row. Retallick will look to range free around the rucks to utilize his surprising speed, while Whitelock should do the business in tight. Both would have noticed the strong displays from their understudies Jeremy Thrush and Patrick Tuipolotu last weekend.
Nick says: Another area desperately depleted. Mako Vunipola is out, Dan Cole is just beginning his return from injury after 10 months away from the game, and Alex Corbesiero misses out once more. Joe Marler has been great this season for Harlequins, and will start. Dave Wilson has similarly earned his place in the squad, but he would not be here if it were not for injuries.
Jamie says: An entirely new front row from last weekend sees Dane Coles back in action at hooker, while the reliability of Owen Franks should hold up his side of the scrum. Wyatt Crockett may find himself under a bit of pressure and should be wary of his penchant for giving away silly penalties. Coles’ line out throwing has been faultless this season and the line out will look to dominate once again.
England’s depth is unquestionably much, much greater than it was two years ago. The side that Lancaster named is nowhere near what he might have hoped in September, but will be competitive thanks to a home environment that is second to none. Still, expect a similar result to last year. I can see the All Blacks racing out to an early lead, England clawing back and demonstrating character, before fading away in the final 15 minutes. Score prediction: All Blacks 35-29.
Since the start of the season, this test has ranked a pretty close second as the All Black’s biggest game of the year (after the Ellis Park epic against the Springboks). England, the team the All Blacks hate to lose to the most, on their own patch is most definitely a scalp this team will stop at nothing to get. Even though they lowered the English colours at the same venue this time last season and wiped them 3-0 in the June test series, the 2012 loss is still very keenly felt in the All Black camp. And that’s not even mentioning how this will effect both teams heading into the 2015 World Cup (where’s that final being played? Oh yeah, Twickenham).
The All Blacks will definitely employ a tighter game early that will probe the English defense with forward runners and intelligent kicking. Before long they’ll look to utilize the skills of SBW to free up the outside backs. As I noted earlier, England can’t afford to give them any head starts with bad kicks, if they do then Dagg, Smith and Savea will return with interest. Up front it’s very much a case of maintaining the systems that have worked so well for the last couple of years to provide Smith and Cruden with go-forward ball. One area of concern will be the handling, which will need to be a lot sharper than the last two tests against the Wallabies and Boks. Score prediction: All Blacks 30-14.
Nick’s player to watch:
Dylan Hartley is another player to have cemented his spot in the England set-up after a difficult 2013, but he had a very difficult tour of New Zealand. Kiwis (Jamie among them) legitimately claimed that he probably would have been fourth-string for the All Blacks, if that. This is a huge match for the native New Zealander to prove that he belongs at the highest level after missing out on the Lions tour. His captaincy at Northampton has been a bright spot, but Hartley has struggled to assert himself in open play at the start of the season. Set pieces will be a huge part of the England game plan, and there is no margin of error.
Jamie’s player to watch:
Ben Smith has been relatively quiet this year after his huge break-out season in 2013, but, as they say, form is temporary but class is permanent.
One final note from an All Black perspective: I had to laugh this week at possible the worst marketing line the All Blacks marketing department have come up with for the launch of the new jersey design. #BlackestJerseyEver on one hand makes no sense (black doesn’t have shades) and on the other is an outright lie (the old jerseys without any sponsorship were a much higher percentage of blackness). Plus, all this talk of innovative individual jersey design is not new either, I distinctly remember adidas spinning a very similar yarn when they redesigned the jersey back in 2000. But at least they managed to not offend any war veterans, which is more than you can say about England’s jersey.
Also, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the only England/NZ clash this weekend. A few hours earlier the Kiwis and England will square off in a 4 Nations rugby league test match in Dunedin, which should be a cracker. The last time these sides all met on the same weekend was back in 2002, when the Kiwis got the job done but England triumphed over the All Blacks.
There you have it, we’re cocked, locked and ready to rock at Twickenham. Enjoy the game whether you’re lucky enough to be going or waking up in the early hours in NZ.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.