The All Blacks have arrived on England’s pebbly shores geared to take on the Red Rose in the heart of rugby union, Twickenham. Join us on The Roar for scores, comments and live updates from 1.30am AEDT.
The scene is set for the All Blacks to finish their year unbeaten as they attempt to score their 100th try against the inventers of the game, and they will be looking to cap their stellar season off in style with a massive win and an impressive display.
Throughout the year their performance has ebbed; sometimes dazzling, sometimes not. Yet despite the ups and downs they’ve generally unloaded misery on their opponents.
Aside from the 22-19 win over Ireland in Christchurch and the 18-all draw against the Wallabies, the All Blacks have not really been troubled, with an average tally of 34 points and four tries per game.
Going into this game – and since their first encounter in 1905, which England lost 15-0 – the average historical score between these two great nations is 24-12 to the All Blacks, shortening to 19-12 at Twickenham.
The English will have earmarked this game as the big one for their European test window, in front of a packed house they will be looking to prove themselves against one of the best performing teams in sporting history.
For the New Zealanders this is an important game; unbeaten records aside there is a common desire by southern nations to shine on the world’s biggest stage, Twickenham.
Dan Carter is revered up here, but the infamously caustic English press is only one average game away from dismantling a man’s sheen.
So this is the final rumble before the All Black’s season wraps up and McCaw takes a six-month sabbatical into the centre of the earth, from whence he is not expected to return calls.
Of course in preparation for this blockbusting game the locals will not be studying the statistics as its ugly reading.
IRB 2012 World Player of the Year nominees Dan Carter and Richie McCaw have never lost to England.
While this is not an uncommon thread; McCaw has only lost eight games while leading the All Blacks, what sings as ominous as a kookaburra on a humid day is the fact that Conrad Smith is also starting.
This unsung hero will be hoping to improve on his win percentage, which at an absurd 90% is the greatest win percentage in the history of union.
Of course it’s not all tickles and giggles in the AB’s camp; there’s been a fair amount of mud being slung over Andrew Hore’s neuron-fireworks during last week’s game against Wales, during which he sent Bradley Davies to sleep hours before the man’s bedtime.
In the fallout from the punch and subsequent five match ban, Steve Hansen has no doubt spent the week being coached by the All Blacks’ PR department, as the management’s defensive patterns focused on their image rather than the English midfield.
Hansen’s initial reaction was defensive when asked after the game about the imminent backlash from Hore’s punch.
“I’m resigned to the fact he is probably going to get cited, it happens every time we come up here. I think they think we’re thugs or something, but we don’t play any differently to anyone else,” Hansen said.
Fast-forward a few days and Hansen performed a fairly neat turnpike by remarking:
“You don’t want to see that in the game. Andrew was embarrassed, we were embarrassed.
“Our group has a zero-tolerance approach to foul play; we’re not a dirty side.”
Adding to the off-field drama, all but two players from the squad have been battling a stomach virus this week, although none will miss the game as a result.
Hansen and his staff are fielding what’s likely to be regarded his full-strength team, with the exception perhaps of Brodie Retallick in place of Luke Romano in the second row, and Keven Mealamu replacing Hore at hooker as the latter takes a month’s holiday to reflect on his actions.
The capricious Israel Dagg is at fullback, Carter returns to fly half, and first choice wingers Julian Savea and Cory Jane are flanking the back line.
Kieran Read takes his place in the starting line-up, probably wondering what he has to do to be nominated for World Player of the Year. He’s partnered by Richie McCaw and Liam Messam at the back of the scrum.
In the hosts’ camp, the English are buzzing about hoping to create some form of history for their side.
After a pair of tight losses to South Africa and Australia, last year’s Six Nations runners-up will be keen to make their countrymen proud.
English halfback Ben Youngs was quoted on the atmosphere in the squad, “What a huge opportunity to play the world champions at home. That is how we see it. There is no fear; there is no going into our shells.
“I have no doubt that we have a big performance in us. There have been glimpses of it and if we get it right for 80 minutes we can be a test for any team.”
The English starting team includes winger Chris Ashton, powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi, halfback Ben Youngs, and Chris Robshaw who captains at openside flanker.
Dan Cole is partnered by Alex Corbisiero in the front row in what will be an interesting contest in the scrums.
The most notable selection for the English is IRB 2012 World Player of the Year nominee, Owen Farrell, who takes reigns at fly half in the space of injured Toby Flood.
His recent nomination as one of the four best players in the world has ruffled a few feathers; he’s not only second choice to Toby Flood in the national side, he’s second choice to Charlie Hodgson at club Saracens.
“They’re a world-class team unbeaten in 20 matches but that’s a challenge you have to look forward to. There’s no point being scared of it. Anything can happen on the day,” Farrell said of the upcoming test.
Of course it will be interesting to see the England fly-half and coach’s son launch against the best fly-half going around.
Carter has a habit of bringing out his best against a young upstart, and no doubt Farrell will be called out.
Watch this space.
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