England can beat the All Blacks
November 3, 2010
Kay believes England's young guns like winger Chris Ashton will thrive against the All Blacks at Twickenham © Getty Images
The smart money may well be on the All Blacks this weekend but there is no doubt England have the ability to trouble the visitors and could even score a famous victory.
I'm not sure if Martin Johnson and Co will be happy or disappointed that the All Blacks got turned over by Australia in Hong Kong last weekend but either way that result showed that there are some chinks in the Tri-Nations champions' armour. England will have been able to do some valuable analysis on that game but the trouble is so will New Zealand.
A lot has been said about the kind of game we are going to get at Twickenham but I can assure you that England will not be adopting a Sevens-style approach - that will be the last thing they want to do. It is no great stretch to say that they will want to challenge the All Blacks up front and with Steve Thompson at hooker and Dan Cole at tight-head they certainly look primed to do so. Time will tell if they can make a significant impact at the scrum and set a bone-shaking standard when it comes to physicality.
One of the big concerns England will have is that there is no one better playing off turnover ball than New Zealand so they will want to keep those down to an absolute minimum. And when kicking for touch they will have to go for the 'green seats' as we used to say to prevent the All Blacks taking a quick throw and launching a swift response.
The set-piece is definitely an area where England can dominate and the scrum is probably the only area where New Zealand have reason to fear their rivals. It's a big game for England locks Tom Palmer and Courtney Lawes and they have got to prove that they can tear the All Blacks apart at the lineout. If they get those two foundations right and don't give New Zealand any good ball then cracks may start to appear.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw always looms as a key threat. He is probably one of the greatest players that has ever lived - if not the best. He certainly has been the best player in the world for the last few seasons so his opposite number Lewis Moody will have his work cut out.
You would have thought the McCaw may have struggled under the latest law interpretations but he is a very intelligent player and has found a way to be equally influential. Obviously that match-up will also see the two captains going head-to-head as well and Lewis cannot compete with McCaw's experience on that front. And the England skipper has to make sure that he doesn't get tied into a battle with McCaw and lose his focus when it comes to leading his side.
The fly-half battle between Toby Flood and Dan Carter is also a fascinating one. I really rate Floody and I want to see him taking the ball up, making half breaks and having a dart at little gaps. Sometimes he steps back inside when he hasn't got any support there so I think he has got to be really careful about not being isolated as New Zealand will be straight onto him. He has also got to encourage his centres and those outside him to follow him through those holes because he often gets his hands free but doesn't have a guy on his shoulder - that is where he can do some real damage.
Some have expressed fears that the likes of Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and Ben Youngs may be overawed by the occasion but I beg to differ and think their first experience of such intensity may work in their favour. I certainly remember my first Test at Twickenham and it gives you a massive, massive lift.
There is this aura around the All Blacks but they are just another country and I think some of the youthfulness of the England team should stand them in good stead. Sometimes when you are a little bit older you start thinking about what the team you are playing has achieved whereas those young kids may have a more carefree attitude and as a result have got a really good chance of going out and doing something very special.
The start will be massive. If England score early you sense New Zealand might claw their way back so perhaps the hosts don't want to make all the running. But they have got to hold onto the shirttails of the All Blacks and make sure that it is a close game. The longer it is close the more New Zealand will question themselves and if they stay in touch a win is obviously much more likely.
At this stage in their development I believe England do not need to be the team that makes all the running in a game, just the really annoying one that never goes away. And as they get more experienced the chance to dominate games from the outset will come.
Two wins in the next month is the reported target and this is realistic if not bold but the key is not to over-react either way. One of the big concerns around the 2007 Rugby World Cup - that has been glossed over thanks to the fact we reached the final - was that everything had become very reactive. As soon as we lost it was a case of 'who are we going to kick out of the team this week?'. There was no momentum, no team ethos and as a result the squad wasn't together and players were not happy in each others' company. England have to get that right this time around and that means stability.
England have put their faith in Martin Johnson and quite rightly so. He took over when we were at our lowest ebb and things will take time. I think we are starting to seeing the benefits of his system and there is no way we should consider a change of management before the World Cup.
As for the rest of the autumn campaign, the Wallabies could be trouble as they are on a high and will want to pay England back for what happened in the summer. They are a very clever side and will have no fear when coming to Twickenham - no one does at the moment which is another concern. The South Africa game is one England really have to target as they are under pressure to get their World Cup preparations back on track and the Samoa game is also there to be won. But I do think England do have a chance in the other two games.
Returning to this weekend's game, I think it will be tight and if I had to put my money anywhere it would be on New Zealand. But I'm not the best gambler in the world and I think England have got a chance.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ben Kay is a co-commentator for ESPN
It was another bumper year of rugby action in 2014; join us as we take a look back at some of the season's top statistics
Salary caps, Saints, sinners and scrums - Monday Maul looks back at the key talking points from an eventful weekend
The latest Week in Pictures takes in a fiery East Midlands derby and all the action from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14