England face All Blacks backlash
November 4, 2010
Can Martin Johnson's England back up their victory over the Wallabies in the summer? © Getty Images
England entertain New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday in a mouth-watering clash that will go a long way to illustrating whether the hosts have what it takes to mix it with the world's best.
Victory in the second Test against Australia in Sydney in June was arguably England's best since they lifted the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and easily the most impressive during Martin Johnson's tenure. But they are under pressure to build on that display against an All Blacks side seething from a rare defeat at the hands of the Wallabies in Hong Kong last weekend.
Twickenham holds no fear for the All Blacks and they will be confident of launching their latest bid for a Grand Slam tour with victory at England's HQ. But with the Rugby World Cup now less than a year away they will be wary of an home side looking to step up their preparations for the sport's showpiece event with formbook-shredding victory.
England - Player to Watch: Scrum-half Ben Youngs was in sparkling form last time he pulled on an England shirt and has cemented his status as a world-class No.9 this season. His first Test appearance at Twickenham represents a major test of his credentials.
England - Team News: Unsurprisingly, England manager Martin Johnson has stuck with the vast majority of those who earned the hard-fought victory over Australia in Sydney. The only change sees powerful prop Andrew Sheridan return at loose-head ahead of Tim Payne. Bath flanker Lewis Moody continues as captain after recovering from a recent eye injury, while centre Shontayne Hape, fullback Ben Foden, wing Chris Ashton and lock Courtney Lawes will also be making their first Test starts at Twickenham.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: The magnetic presence of debutant Sonny Bill Williams is sure to draw the eye. He lit up the ITM Cup in his limited appearances for Canterbury but that was in the No.12 shirt and not in the outside-centre berth he fills against England. His selection represents a calculated risk but he partners Ma'a Nonu in power-packed centre combination that threatens to wreak havoc. Can Sonny Bill live up to the hype?
New Zealand - Team News: Head coach Graham Henry wasted no time in shaking up his line-up following their loss to the Wallabies. In comes Williams, scrum-half Alby Mathewson, lock Sam Whitelock and winger Hosea Gear. Williams has replaced Conrad Smith, who has been rested from the 22-man squad, meaning Isaia Toeava will have to be called upon if the Williams experiment flops. Scrum-half Jimmy Cowan was sent to the stands to allow Mathewson to make his first Test start while Tom Donnelly too lost his place altogether. Gear's start comes at the expense of wing Cory Jane, who injured his ribs against Australia.
Key Battle: There is no doubt that the battle at the scrum and the lineout will be pivotal in this clash but in terms of individual match-ups the ability of the respective opensides - England's Lewis Moody and New Zealand's Richie McCaw - to stamp their authority on the game will be equally enthralling.
Trivia: England manager Martin Johnson captained the side the last time they got the better of New Zealand - a 15-13 victory in Wellington back in 2003.
Stats: Eight straight victories against England - including the last four matches at Twickenham - make pleasant reading for the All Blacks. England haven't beaten New Zealand on home soil since November 2002.
"We want to make this a good, old-fashioned Test rugby game. Whatever you think that means, we know what it means. We're pretty confident about what we can do defensively." - England defence guru Mike Ford is confident of shackling New Zealand.
"If you allow yourself to be intimidated you go through life meekly and don't achieve the things you want to achieve. Rugby is no different. If people are going to stand up and try to intimidate you, you will say 'I am not going to be'. I think that is huge." - All Blacks assistant Steve Hansen is ready for a bruising battle.
Prediction: The Tri-Nations champions have set the standard on the international stage this year and defeat last time out will no doubt spark a vicious backlash. England's guaranteed physicality may stem the tide for a while but the All Blacks' class is set to tell in the end.
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