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New Zealand primed to paint Twickenham black

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Bryn Palmer | 09:27 UK time, Thursday, 19 November 2009

Martin Johnson said he felt like he'd aged 20 years watching his England side torturously beat Argentina.

If the 39-year-old is already mentally on the verge of collecting his free bus pass, then by the time it gets dark at Twickenham on Saturday they could be metaphorically nailing down his coffin.

"The All Blacks are consistent in performance," the beetle-browed manager noted as he contemplated this week's visitors to south west London. "If we make the same mistakes, we'll be in big trouble."

He was certainly right on the first count (we'll come to the second later.) New Zealand may not have won a World Cup since 1987 and that will remain a treasured taunt for opposition fans and source of pain for Kiwis until a second one arrives, but they could never be labelled an up-and-down team.

Consider this. Since England won the 2003 World Cup, they have played 68 Tests and won 31 of them, a miserable success rate of 46% for a country with designs on global domination.

In the same period, New Zealand - all under the stewardship of Graham Henry - have played 75 Tests and won 63, a phenomenal success ratio of 84%.

Which would you rather as a fan? A glorious high once every four years, with sporadically uplifting victories amid the general mediocrity meantime? Or a shattering low followed by a conveyor belt of triumphs and titles?

carter595.jpg
Dan Carter is on the brink of becoming the All Blacks top all-time points scorer

And yet this has been a poor year by recent All Black standards. They have lost four Test matches - one to France, three to South Africa - and any further setbacks could cause senior officials in the New Zealand Rugby Union to wonder if they were right to give Henry a second crack at ending their World Cup famine.

In theory the gnarled old coach should be wary of a visit to Twickenham, where England have upset the New Zealand applecart on several occasions (1983, 1993, 2002) over the last quarter of a century or so.

Yet despite his protestations, you can't help feeling that this Saturday's set-to is more a chance for the All Blacks to fine-tune some areas of their game before next week's hazardous looking Test in Marseille, than a serious examination of their pedigree.

Henry, of course, is having none of that. England, he maintains, remain a dangerous proposition, even more so after being pilloried for a turgid performance in victory against Argentina.

"I seem to remember they were booed at the World Cup in 2007 and finished up in the final," he remarked. "They will be highly motivated. For a big game like this they will be on the edge of the edge. We have got no false illusions as to where England are at. We know they will play well. They have selected players with a physical approach and we expect a big Test."

Yet even if England make it a closer contest than most expect - and Henry is aware the rain forecast for Saturday may mitigate against a free-flowing encounter - he still holds most of the cards.

He has Dan Carter for a start. At some point on Saturday - the first time he makes his presence felt on the scoreboard - the celebrated fly-half will overtake Andrew Mehrtens' All Blacks points-scoring record of 957.

Carter likes playing against England, despite his first encounter against them coming as a replacement in that memorable 15-13 win for Johnson's World Cup winners-elect in Wellington back in June 2003.

The 27-year-old has started all seven Tests the countries have played - and New Zealand have won every one - since that filthy night, amassing 137 points at an average of nearly 20 a game.

Alongside him the backline has a settled look. The marvellous full-back Mils Muliaina - scorer of two tries in their 32-6 win at Twickenham last year - will play his 81st test to join Justin Marshall as the second most capped All Black on Saturday, while the ferocious Ma'a Nonu and artful Conrad Smith are a maturing, balanced centre combination.

Wing Sitiveni Sivivatu "does things most players can't do" according to assistant coach Steve Hansen, now in charge of attack, rather than the pack. But in the absence of Sivivatu's injured cousin Joe Rokocoko, the All Blacks have shown no hesitation in giving 20-year-old wing Zac Guildford only his second Test start at Twickenham, after a highly promising debut against Wales a fortnight ago.

"He is very good under the high ball, can pop up anywhere in the backline from phase play, he's got a lot of pace and scores tries," Hansen offered by way of explanation.

In contrast to England's safety-first approach to selection, the All Blacks are also pitching tight-head prop Owen Franks, 21, into the fray alongside two of their core forwards, Tony Woodcock and Andrew Hore, and giving lock Tom Donnelly only his fifth cap in tandem with another, Brad Thorn.

The back row also has an interesting blend with the industrious Adam Thompson joining the improving Kieran Read and the imperious Richie McCaw.

henryandguildford595.jpg
Graham Henry has kept faith with Hawkes Bay winger Zac Guildford

New Zealand may have issues to resolve in a few positions over the next two years - scrum-half, number eight, lock and tight-head are all still up for grabs - but they are using this transitional year, the midway point between World Cups, to assess the contenders and add depth to their squad.

When, as in South Africa, there is pressure to win every Test regardless of circumstances, that is not always easy, but assistant coach Wayne Smith sees ominous parallels.

"It reminds me a bit of 2004," Smith said recently. "We had to re-establish ourselves after a poor Tri-Nations and we did that and built up a really good team in 2005 and 2006." [They lost just three out of 39 Tests before the 2007 World Cup quarter-final defeat to France in Cardiff - their only loss in 24 Tests on European soil since England last beat them at Twickenham in 2002.] "We are really happy with the development and character of the team," Smith added.

Not completely happy, mind, and this is where Johnson's fear of the consequences of further England ineptitude on Saturday comes in.

The bad news for those of a red rose persuasion is the All Blacks arrive at Twickenham in frustrated mood themselves.

They may have extended their record of not conceding a try in Europe to six Tests over the last fortnight against Wales and Italy, but only scoring one themselves in each game clearly rankles.

"We haven't been totally happy with the way we have gone and we want to make sure we put a performance together," warned captain McCaw. "We have played good in parts but there is room to improve yet. It would be good to nail those opportunities. We feel we are not far off."

If they hit anything approaching top form at Twickenham, that will be way too near for Johnson.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    "Which would you rather as a fan? A glorious high once every four years, with sporadically uplifting victories amid the general mediocrity meantime? Or a shattering low followed by a conveyor belt of triumphs and titles?"

    Unquestionably, the glorious high once every four years - and if you asked any Kiwi they would say the same.

  • Comment number 2.

    As a kiwi I would have to disagree with you jake. While I would love to be called world champion, I am just as happy that we are #1 in the IRB world rankings. 84% win ratio is much more satisfying than 46%.

    I would not like to support a team like England and have the one glorious high (not every four years, but just once) and then get beaten on a regular basis.


  • Comment number 3.

    Good on you Wade. I was going to tease you about not being no 1 in the world but since South Africa are having a few problems you've slipped back up there. That said I think I am right in saying England have made more world cup finals than New Zealand (even if we've only won it the same number of times as you). I wonder what this says of the character of a team that regularly gets beaten versus one that rarely looses until the pressure of a World Cup comes along and they find themselves lacking?

  • Comment number 4.

    Ok Wade - I'll concede not every Kiwi would agree, maybe just the ones I know!! And I'm not suggesting England have regular glorious highs, just answering the rhetorical question.

    I've followed the game since the mid-70s before the World Cup and professionalism changed everything - and not always for the best. One of the changes is that, like it or not, there is now only one measure of who is the best team in the world. And at the moment that meaure is who won over 80 minutes in a match at the Stade de France on 20th October 2007.

    The All Blacks could have 100% record since then, and SA could have lost every game since, but unless AB have that little gold cup in the cabinet they aren't the best team in the world and the Saffers are.

    To be that, you have to play well in all three matches that decide the best, and AB haven't done that since 1987. Being the best is not about consistency, its about winning when it really, really matters.

  • Comment number 5.

    jakehadlee, i have to agree with wade. once every blue moon england manage an upset, but when they're not even winning the six nations with any sort of regularity, i don't think you're qualified to have an opinion on what new zealanders think. we are not world champs, but world number 1 has more of a ring to it, don't you think jake?

  • Comment number 6.

    Are you kidding, jakehadlee? I think it's far more important that we maintain our winning ways as often as possible. It makes us proud that we have one of the most successful professional sports teams of any sport in the world.

    Sure, it would be bloody brilliant to win the World Cup more often, but we certainly wouldn't swap the All Blacks' total success for any other team's, especially not the English.

    Even when we failed to win the World Cup yet again, we still didn't boo our own team...

  • Comment number 7.

    Absolute rubbish jakehadlee. The worlds best side is not determined by who wins the world cup as englands performances since that glorious night in 2003. Whilst that is the only time all sides are there the test matches over the 4 years also contribute and the further away from world cup the better it is as benchmark.

    All blacks struggle in world cups because where they are so strong generally their players lack the regular dogfights in test matches that most other countries have. The European nations also benefit from the heineken cup and the intensity of those matches

  • Comment number 8.

    te waka - I'm not claiming I'd rather have England's record than the AB's, just that winning the World Cup is better than being number 1 in the IRB rankings, by a pretty huge distance.

    The question was, essentially, would you prefer to win the World Cup regularly but be poor in between times, or to regularly top the IRB rankings but never win the cup. I know what I'd prefer - and I guess you're right, I can't really talk for the Kiwis but if they'd really prefer option b maybe that explains why they've come up short every time since '87.

  • Comment number 9.

    Jake - I think you are being harsh with your one high statement regarding England at the World Cup. As this is the tournament that really matters the win percentage of England must be very similar to that of NZ. They have been in 3 finals, 1 semi-final and been quarter finalists at the other tournament. As I remember NZ have been in 2 finals, 2 semis and q-f's the other times.

    You have stated that it is better to be classed as No.1 in the world, well is that not what England achieved after beating Australia and NZ in 2003 before winning the WC that year. Surely that shows a team who truly were the best. No.1 between competitions and falling short when the big games come about shows the attitude of a bully, who returns to their true identity once the pressure comes

  • Comment number 10.

    riley_ives - In 40 years time, will people in Wellington be looking back to October 2009 and saying oh look, New Zealand topped the IRB rankings then - what a legendary team?

    Any one of those AB players would swap 20 years of number one ranking for one world cup medal. Or maybe not, maybe that's just the Aussies - maybe that's why they have a good chuckle every four years when the AB's come to test their number one ranking in the cauldron of tournament rugby.

  • Comment number 11.

    Exactly! Players define themselves by silverware. In 20 year you'll be taking about 'World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson' rather than 'Played for the team who were ranked No.1 for a while but won nothing, Dan Carter'....

  • Comment number 12.

    riley_ives, your reasons for the ABs not being successful fall a bit flat with me. They play a lot of massive games every year, the Tri Nations with Bledisloe cup incorparted is one of the toughest competitions in the world. They suffer a bit when touring teams take weakened sides but still do an Autumn tour every year to the northern hemisphere. Over the last few World Cups they've come up against a French side that was in the mood twice and the Aussies in Australia. Also, the argument about the Heineken Cup falls flat as the Super 14 has probably a greater concentration of talent and intense games all the way through.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the All Blacks this weekend. I have been following the progress of a few of the youngsters and it's great to see players like Franks and Guilford playing along with others as they build another quality side. Read is one to watch, replaced the great Reuben Throne for Canterbury and the Crusaders and is an awesome player. The back line is coming together nicely with Smith adding a bit of class outside Nonu, who must be one of the most improved players over the last few years.

  • Comment number 13.

    Jake - You argue your point well, but you misunderstand the psyche of NZ rugby and its supporters. We don't have to choose between the options Bryn Palmer offers - we expect to win every single game the All Blacks play, whether it is a World Cup quarter final or a one-off exhibition match. The 80% winning record doesn't apply over the last six years; it applies since records began! Every single loss is unexpected and hurts like hell, albeit that the WC losses hurt a little more and give our friends across the Tasman cause to guffaw. We're comfortable with our winning record and our attitude to winning and losing.

  • Comment number 14.

    Comon guys, isnt this a bit of a pointless discussion? Its like the tennis world rankings, it says something if you are number 1 but ask the players which theyd rather have; a ranking or a major cup/championship? I think you know the answer. Besides, the World cup is the only time the sides are pitched into battle on as near a level playing field as possible. They all play in the same place against each other, with a mix of referees (so less room for North/South nuances in interpretations)and the team that can put it togther and beat the rest is the best. Surely that means more to everyone than a ranking? Thats why you get a prize for it lads!

    But the more serious problem for England is to compete with the All Blacks on Saturday. In spite of not winning world cups the All Blacks remain formidable. England would do well to look very closely at the way the Aussies and AB's play. It seems only France and Ireland at the moment are threatening the domination of the top SH sides. The challenge for England is to get themselves on that level too. Hopefully with Shaw coming in the pack at least, will be a more effective confidant unit. We will see.

  • Comment number 15.

    There is no getting away from statistics and they do tell a story. There is no doubt that the ABs have a proud and successful history. But so do England. I don't think England should be judged on the last few years statistics because we have gone through a definate poor spell. Teams go through ups and downs and England will come out of this spell and be able to compete with the best again. England are currently playing a second or even third team in places and considering that it's not all bad. A fully fit england would do much better and would no doubt trouble the worlds best. Make no mistake. We will be back!

  • Comment number 16.

    This is easier for a kiwi than you may think...

    Unquestionably I would rather a "shattering low followed by a conveyor belt of triumphs and titles" over "a glorious high once every four years". I'd go as far as to say there are only two teams in World rugby still feared by others and that's SA and NZ!

    Obviously it hurts every kiwi to lose at a RWC and NZ should have their name etched on the cup more than once, that cannot be denied but come on how many sports fans get to enjoy as much dominance from their team as we have over the years...

  • Comment number 17.

    Jediboy - I think England will, indeed, improve its results. Look no further than last year's Six Nations when a decidedly mediochre England team nearly did enough to challenge for the title. And it must be difficult to compete when you're down to about your eight and nith choices for prop.

    However, I think a key point to be made is that the 2003 England team has not yet been given credit for just how good they were by comparison with England teams before and since. It may be generations before England can put together another team with such all-round strength coupled with pure genius in a couple of key positions.

  • Comment number 18.

    Rossmore: Dan Carter was probably a pretty poor example...he's the most complete FH in the game at the moment, and has been one of the best players in the world for a fair old time!

    your point i agree with, just your choice of player definately not the right one! :P

  • Comment number 19.

    rossmore01 - I fancy in 20 years you will be right and people will refer to "world cup winner Jonny Wilkinson" however I reckon you are way off on the other point. I think rather than "Played for the team who were ranked No.1 for a while but won nothing, Dan Carter", I think on the balance of probabilities people will refer to him as "World Cup winner and all time record points scorer, Dan Carter". Let's face it Wilko isn't going to get much chance to add to many points in the current England team and I wouldn't bet against the ABs winning the world cup before DC retires, by which point I expect he will be the record points scorer by some distance.

    As regards the RWC winning v IRB rankings arguement the truly great teams do both, I reckon. But some are just unlucky as with the ABs in 1995. As mentioned above I have no doubt that NZ will win the RWC (probably 2011) but the thing to remember is that while worldwide recognition comes with RWC victory, true fans and supporters remember great sides from either hemisphere that toured and achieved. Winning the 6 Nations with a grand slam or the Tri nations unbeaten are still pretty awesome achievements and ones that are remembered. In the modern era though statistics are constantly thrown at sports fans and records will show the RWC winners but they will also show which team were IRB ranked No1 (and for how many months and with what win ratio).

    If the IRB rankings and general winning didn't matter (and matter an awful lot) then surely sides would be experimenting the minute the RWC finished in preparation for the next one with side selections only being fixed in the 18 months leading up to the tournament. This just doesn't to happen because winning and creating an aura around a side is so important.

    Anyway enough of me bring on Saturday. I reckon we English are going to take a bit of a pasting from the NZ boys but I just hope we front up and show some dynamism. The game seems to be in a strange phase of develpoment at the moment but hopefully some flowing rugby will return to HQ. I just hope not all of it is played by men in black.

  • Comment number 20.

    Graham Comfort - I think the psyche you talk about is part of the problem. The ABs are playing flat out in every game rather than trying to build a team over four years for tournament rugby. They are also so used to playing at a level of commitment higher than the other teams that when the other teams raise their game for the World Cup knock out games, not only does it take the ABs by surprise, but they can't raise their own game because they always play flat out anyway. On top of that, the pressure that comes with demanding success so fanatically can crush players.

    The irony is that it was NZ's modernisation of the way rugby was played, and not least players rewarded, that ushered in the professional era and the World Cup, but of all the nations they are the ones who have most failed to realise the paradigm shift in focus away from what were essentially friendlies played for pride to professional, tournament-based competition that came with it.

    The other big teams treat non-tournament games as a means to an end, but the ABs still have a rather old-fashioned, romantic idea that these games matter more than they really do.

    I guess when they do catch up, that will be the time for everyone else to worry!

  • Comment number 21.

    In 1990 the Scotland rugby team walked onto the Murrayfield pitch with a sense of furious determination when facing England in the Grand Slam decider, the first time this northern hemisphere rugby holy grail could have gone to either of the two sides competing in the final match of the five nations championship.

    One plaudit commented that the England team might as well have been announced as the Margaret Thatcher Poll Tax XV such was the fire in the eyes of the Scotland team not to mention the entire nation. Mrs T had inflicted the poll tax on Scotland as a tester to see how it would work making the Scots (which I am one) the political guinea pigs of the “English” tax system

    This weekend, in a similar vein, the All Blacks will be entertained at Twickenham by the Tesco Sheepdog XV.

    Every time I go on holiday something strange happens whilst I am away or when I get home. In 1988 Yazz and the Plastic Population got to number one in the charts when I got back from Corfu (I can’t believe music has actually gone down hill from there). In 1994 I came back from Amsterdam to find out that the entire population were being eaten alive by a flesh eating bug (at least according to the tabloid press).

    This year we went to New Zealand and I didn’t have to wait until I got back to find out that the UK, once again, was going bonkers. I picked up a magazine in Wellington and was confronted by the rantings of a rather peeved Kiwi journalist on the subject of sheep dogs. I am not sure how much of this made it to the UK press, but it seems that Tesco, who buy a rather large quantity of New Zealand lamb, demanded that kiwi farmers stop using sheep dogs to round up their flocks as it is making our future dinner rather stressed.

    As the angry antipodean points out, how can being rounded up by a dog, a practice that has been going on for generations of woolly backs, be more stressful than having your throat cut? In fact the origin of sheep dogs goes back to when they were there to actually protect the sheep from predators and this is still the case in many parts of the world.

    So the British, which is generally translated to the English when they are doing something wrong, is now responsible for imposing nonsense on a nation which is actually more British than Britain. Tesco must be a swear word across the nation that has not yet succumbed to the level of stupidity and political correctness that we are now blindly following in a way the New Zealand farmers can only hope for once their sheep dogs are put out of business.

    With the standard of English rugby having declined from its World Cup winning high in 2007, the swing low crowd can only pray that Tesco don’t have a single advertising hording at the home of the English game otherwise the fate of the sheep may look mild in comparison to that of the England team.

    As a Scot I feel hesitant to stick up for our Sassenach neighbours but I really must point out that it’s not the RFUs fault that the country is totally mad. You see, the average man, woman (or dog) in the street hates the PC culture but we have become so used to accepting things we don’t like with a shrug and a moan down the pub (or a Facebook rant), that each new PC abomination is allowed to become the norm.

    From what I saw in my three weeks in New Zealand, I can only hope that this great version of what we used to be is not ruined by the same sort of nonsense that is plaquing our once fine nation and, as a Scot, I would like to remind the All Blacks that it is not our fault either and to keep this in mind when you next play us.

  • Comment number 22.

    Jakehadlee has an interesting point, it does seem that England is able to 'lift' for a world cup. But Jakehadlee hasn't pointed out that England has NEVER beaten the All Blacks in a world cup.

    Having spent a lot of money following the All Blacks for the last fifteen years, its difficult to know if I'd rather win the World cup. Having watched the boys beat South Africa in a series for the first time in South Africa in 1996 against a side that wasn't physically tired from playing multiple in the previous weeks was amazing. Does this mean that teams like England are better conditioned with tournaments, where the players have less time to recover - maybe. But as a general rule the best team in the world at the time wins the World Cup. This goes for almost all the World Cups, even the 2007 where IF NZ had gotten past France and England, they would have had to still beat South Africa who had beaten NZ that year.

    It is partly psyche, because there is the history of the All Blacks being the team to beat, so the players/coaches/fans expect them to win every game. I'm not sure if this is a bad thing as it means the Jersey means more once you've earned it and every kid (at least when I was growing up) wanted to be an All Black. But I think the same could be said for South Africa as well, where the sport is the national sport.

    Though the world cup crowns the best team in a tournament, the team can't be called the world's best if they're struggling to win 50% of their games two years on - case in point England 2003-2006.

    As a person who loves rugby, I wish that the other 'bigger' rugby nations looked at every game of rugby the same way New Zealanders do. Not about ensuring that your team 'makes Europe' or 'does get relegated'. But simply looked at the next game you play as the most important game of the year.

  • Comment number 23.

    Scottpnz

    ....you'll be interested to hear that there's a Tesco right outside Twickers....oh dear!

  • Comment number 24.

    sorry should have been for tightheadprop

  • Comment number 25.

    Hi Simon,
    Sorry, but did you, or anyone else commenting on this blog, watch any of NZ's games in the Tri Nations.
    I personally did, and was quick to pick up on the lack of structure (which I believe to be down to the over-rated Dan Carter), the suicidal decision making and running from own Try line (mainly Sivivato, Rokothoko, Ma'Nonu etc), the poor handling and passing, and failure under the high ball.
    These, I believe, are key abilities in the modern game (I'm sure you'll agree!), and i'm quite miffed on how a team could be so hyped up and praised, if they can't implement them into 80mins of there profession?
    Could you, or anyone else, pleas enlighten me?

  • Comment number 26.

    Dyslexic_womble my point was that in the intervening period the ABs were dominant and didn't have the closely fought battles of many of the other teams therefore when it came to the last few mins against France in the quarters they continued trying to pick and drive over the line instead of having the composure to set up the drop goal which would of taken them through to the semis. Was this because they lacked the close games before where they had to find a way to win because they were comfortably ahead.

  • Comment number 27.

    HenryParky
    I watched the Tri-Nations as well. I also watched North Harbour against Canterbury and Dan Carter is not over-rated. The All Blacks really only looked poor in the tri-nations against the Boks, because lets face it, the Boks playing the way they were playing would make anyone look poor. As for being so hyped up and praised, you should have a look at some of the NZ press. They are anything but. It's probably once again the mad British (read English) media blowing things all out of proportion again to try and sell bits of paper which are really only good for wrapping fish suppers - but as tightheadprop has pointed out, the country's gone so daft that it's probably unhealthy to wrap fish suppers in newspapers these days.
    On the highs and lows question, let me put a different slant on it. As a Jock married to a Brazilian living in New Zealand I support two of the most disappointing teams on the planet at the moment - Scottish football and Scottish rugby. Good news is I have Brazil and NZ to fall back on. I was in Paris when Brazil were lucky to beat Scotland in '98, Hampden Park when Scotland beat France and Waikato Stadium when the Boks beat the ABs and let me tell you, it's a hell of a lot more fun supporting a losing team that wins sometimes, than it supporting a winning team that loses sometimes.

  • Comment number 28.

    No one beats NZ at their game. England, when they have won, have done so by taking NZ's game away, not by beating NZ at their strengths. Hammering, flowing, running, rucking, passing rugby is where the ABs excel, and pulling the trigger when the line is in sight. England will have to play hard, stodgy, slow-it-down, beat-them-up, infringing footie, or pull off a miracle to beat the Black Boys at Twickers. Look for lots of penalties from England, lots of bolshy show, not a lot of brilliant attack from the backs. If England can stop 2 or 3 of NZ's best chances at the line, they'll win. If they keep heart, they may win. If they attempt to compete with NZ's strengths, they'll die trying.

  • Comment number 29.

    Tightheadprop -- well, said mate. Another convincing performance proving that, without a doubt, it is only we front-rowers who understand humanity generally and the world's greatest sport specifically.

  • Comment number 30.

    kennyt69

    Loved your post, thanks for that.

    But I have to disagree with your very last comment. Admittedly I'm not Scottish, but as an England rugby fan I can assure you that the 1999 - 2003 years were a whole lot more fun to witness than the years from 2004 to the present. During England's best-ever era it was a massive disappointment to see them lose - thinking here of the 2 'grand slams that got away' for example - but you still knew they were capable of being the best, of taking on the top teams and winning, and then perhaps winning the ultimate prize, all of which England did. That knowledge always helped soften the pain of the occasional defeats.

    Compare that with what I've seen since, i.e. a sometimes potentially-good-but-inconsistent England side and a sometimes downright poor England side, but always an england side more likely to lose than to win against the better teams, and i'll take the 1999-2003 era every time.

  • Comment number 31.

    Croftalicious and David Fitzmaurice - I agree that the use of Carter in that example is likely to be defunct in the fullness of time as it seems unlikley that NZ will fold in yet another WC! Perhaps Andrew Merthens would be a better exmaple - a player who is probably more comparble with Wilkinson in terms of playing ability and style, a player who was considered to be argubaly the best of his time (having kept Carlos Spencer out the AB side), but is now largely forgotten, and certainly will be in 5 years, as he played in a team that won nothing.

    On a seperate note, I expect England to compete for the 1st half tomorrow and then get taught a lesson by the ABs.

  • Comment number 32.

    All international tests are important, but personally if I had to make a choice between performing well in World Cups and winning games inbetween World Cups, i'd go for performing well in World Cups (obviously i'd like England to win every game but thats not going happen). The sub-par performances England have put in recently are pretty hard to watch, but I am consoled by their achievements in recent World Cups. Also why do people feel the need to write half a novel for their comments, its annoying, yeah I get it, it's obviously because your a real authority on the sport.

  • Comment number 33.

    The recent sub par performances would be slightly easier to bear though if some more strategic vision was being showed by the management in terms of selection and style. Any consolation for England fans taken from performance at the previous WC is unlikley to exist post 2011 - as given the current lack of long term planning even with a rather easy WC grouping, England's next WC campaign seems likley to end in abject failure.....

  • Comment number 34.

    Isn't that what was said in the lead up to the last World Cup.

  • Comment number 35.

    The difference being that at the last WC we still had some world class players leftover from 2003 (Catt. Lewsey, Wilkinson, Robinson, Vickery, etc.) to carry us through in spite of the management. Now we're bereft of real class and just muddling through each game trying to avoid defeat (and the sack!) with an ageing side and no long term vision or goal....

  • Comment number 36.

    This thread seemed to get immediately sidetracked into the long-term legacy of England and the ABs! I'm far more interested in tomorrow's game.
    Most likely outcome - spirited fight by England for 60 minutes, ABs pull away with 2/3 tries in the last 20.
    Possible outcome: England nullify the ABs midfield with JW, Erinle and Worsley, take the sting out of the ABs, bring on the cavalry in the last 20 and sneak a win by 5 points at the death.
    I'm going to place a bet on the second scenario; this England team is not nearly as bad as people are making out; Test rugby is always unpredictable - nobody saw the win against the French coming in the last 6Ns (or the nature of it), and from memory that game was played after the team had been in camp for a few weeks.
    At the very least, I expect a much improved performance from an England team with their backs to the wall - and I expect the English front five to surprise a few people.
    Don't forget that last season England had parity with the ABs for two thirds of the game until the cumulative effect of having 4 players sin-binned finally told.

  • Comment number 37.

    Oh dear, this seems to have touched a Kiwi raw nerve! Of course, I'd rather England were as good as the All Blacks.

    However, let's not re-write history and pretend that England's World Cup win in 2003 was some kind of flash in the pan. They went into that tournament ranked 1st in the world, having beaten every single major team in the world on their own soil in the preceding two years, except South Africa, whom they did not play away, but pasted them at Twickenham by a record margin.

    I'm not happy with the current England team, and would settle for a respectable defeat on Saturday, but the team that won in 2003 was amazing, and I seriously question the judgement, sanity or memory of all those suggesting otherwise.

  • Comment number 38.

    #36 Hotspur7

    I think you're right not to write-off England and agree with your 'possible outcome' - if they do it, it won't be pretty, lots of penalties and solid defence.

    Your 'most likely' outcome seems reasonable but England have always had a determined defence and with the switching of Cueto to full back, the back three will be solid. Either way, I think it's going to be a bit of a battle and New Zealand, should they win, won't win by much.

    I'm a bit worried about Simon Shaw tomorrow - he's always been a bit of a penalty machine so I hope doesn't give too many away tomorrow. Mind you, a man his size probably needs ten minutes to get his breath back!

  • Comment number 39.

    If rugby as a sport ended after this year then the summary would most likely be: The Wallabies and Springboks, with 2 RWCs each, were a strong force in the global game...but by far and away the most dominant team in the history of the sport were the "All Blacks"

  • Comment number 40.

    One more thought about tomorrow's game: it's pretty clear that Johnson does not buy into this "invincible All Blacks" theory - he never did as a player and, in his role as a manager, it was clear to me in last year's game that he had got his point across to the players, because I thought that the ABs were definitely rattled for two thirds of the game before the ref took matters into his own hands.
    No doubt Johnson, like anybody who has played the game, respects the ABs for the well-drilled, superb athletes that they are and always have been, but he will not subscribe to the mentality that sees most teams expecting to lose before they cross the white line, which in my view explains at least in part the positive stats in their favour.
    I reckon we can expect a fiesty first ten minutes tomorrow; hopefully there will be more passion from the England players during the game than during the national anthems, which was not the case last week.

  • Comment number 41.

    So much thought in the above comments but it boils down to this, the All Blacks are generally a great team to watch while England are generally crap and occasionally produce such astonishingly poor performances (e.g last week)that I am constantly amazed that they have any fans left. Surely it is a a sense of nationalism rather than admiring the rugby - how can anyone admire English rugby of late? Talk all you like about the World Cup but it doesn't change the fact that English rugby sucks and that the most likely outcome tomorrow is that England will be absolutely hammered.I can't wait.

  • Comment number 42.

    The ABs play every game as though it's their last. JW said that. They weren't playing that way against SA in the tri-nations this year, until the second half of the two teams' third and final encounter. There they played like it was their last game and came so close to taking it. But did they want it? No, I believe not.

    The ABs are sick of being the world's best between WCs. This time they're back to basics, not giving too much away.

    SA are in trouble because they haven't been rebuilding as they should have and now after a grueling tri-nations that's starting to show and there are frustrations creeping into their game. They won't be contenders in 2011. Nor will England, although with another lucky draw (ie not meeting the ABs at any point) could make the 1/4s. Wales and Ireland similarly.

    But where the ABs will face a strong and realistic challenge will be in the French - as is always the case - and Australia, whose back line is starting to look formidable. My bet is an AB v Australia final.

    My bet this weekend is ABs by 15

  • Comment number 43.

    England v All Blacks encounters have always been keenly contested and whoever wins has bragging rights. While the All Blacks are one of the most respected teams in the world for their almost total commitment, legal or otherwise, England are regarded as the team that the non-England supporters most want to see beaten. Part of this is down to the animosity created during the Sir Clive era, part of it is down to the general lack of humility of the England fans who can't seem to get away from the need for one-ups-manship and the press are to blame for the rest.

    Make of this what you want but attractive ruggers is surely the winner - all the time.

  • Comment number 44.

    NZ are a great team, but can't handle any high pressure game. So, be the best team for the last 12 years, or win a world cup? I think England, South Africa, Australia know what is important....do the kiwis? Look forward to seeing Dan Carter again in future...

  • Comment number 45.

    Andy, 7.54pm, you obviously are a thorough NZ national and have been there through thick and thin. Were you there when 13 English men held NZ at bay? Or was that just too dull for you? Fortunately, England fans are not so shallow, hence why 80,000 people turned up for the game today. I seem to recall empty stadiums at all recent NZ matches: internationals, super-whatever and Air New Zealand Cup.....

 

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