England target dominant All Blacks' scalp
November 15, 2013
England experienced one of their greatest days against the All Blacks last year © Getty Images
"We are the most dominant team in the history of the world." One thing you can say about the All Blacks is that they are not modest. This was the message posted on New Zealand's whiteboard in the team room in their hotel in Kensington ahead of the game against England this weekend.
It was not meant for public consumption, but the code of omerta was broken by a British newspaper this week. What followed was a disgruntled Steve Hansen hitting out at the UK media and the management team denying the very same media a chance to chat to Dan Carter ahead of his 100th appearance this week.
Despite security breaches, leaks and toys being thrown from prams, the All Blacks still have a sense of invincibility. England are two from two in the autumn series and they know what it takes to beat the Kiwis having smashed them 38-21 last year. But that is the All Blacks' only defeat since before their 2011 World Cup win.
It hurt them. England are fully aware of this. Stuart Lancaster has been full of praise for the All Blacks this week, agreeing with their credo that they are indeed the most dominant sporting team at present.
Something will have to give on Saturday. Lawrence Dallaglio said earlier this week we will know a lot more about just how good this current crop of England players are after this weekend's Test.
For the All Blacks it is a case of pushing on in their desire to end 2013 unbeaten. For England, it will be about proving to the rugby-watching world that they have developed as a team and are finding their strut and some momentum ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
England to repeat 2012 heroics?
England's team is currently built around an axis of Northampton Saints players - Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, Dylan Hartley, Lee Dickson and the now injured Alex Corbisiero. All are playing well at the moment and bar Corbisiero, they are likely to be at the forefront of anything England do well on Saturday. But England's form player at the moment is Mike Brown. He has been their player of the autumn series and will be one of England's main attacking threats on Saturday.
The All Blacks from No.1 through to 15 have quality in every position. They were not at their best last weekend against France but they still got the win, not something to be sniffed at. At the forefront of everything they are doing well are the world's form forward Kieran Read and Ben Smith.
Out of form
Chris Ashton is still the man who seems to have questions to answer ahead of Saturday's Test. Last weekend, Ashton crossed against Argentina, though the try did look like it was in touch. He also squandered an opportunity which you feel the Ashton of 2010 would have taken. Marland Yarde and Christian Wade's injuries have seen Ashton keep his place in the side through necessity rather than form. He played well against the All Blacks last year, scored a try and will hope for more of the same this weekend.
Dan Carter, the world's best fly-half. This weekend he wins his 100th cap for the All Blacks, a feat which can never be underestimated or underplayed. The achievement will mean little for Carter on Saturday if they lose, but it is something he can look back on in later life with a great deal of pride.
"Any All Black, to be able to sustain a career long enough to play 100 games is a special player," Hansen said. "But he [Carter] is probably one of the special, special ones."
Key area to watch
England will be without star loose-head Corbisiero for Saturday's game, the only man from Lancaster's side to make the 45-man shortlist for International Rugby Players Association Player of the Year. In his place is Joe Marler. He has improved hugely as a prop over the last season but he will face a true test of his ability against Owen Franks. If Marler gets himself on the wrong side of the scrum and the referee, Carter is sure to snuffle up the points on offer.
New Zealand have won 24, lost one and drawn one since Hansen took charge in 2012. That loss? Against England last year.
England have a slight advantage in terms of pack weight on Saturday. They come in at an average 114kg per forward compared to New Zealand's average of 113kg.
Two players win their 50th cap on Saturday - England's Dylan Hartley and New Zealand's Sam Whitelock. Whitelock made his debut back in 2010 in their 66-28 win over Ireland. For Hartley, his came against Pacific Islanders in 2008.
New Zealand field a very experienced starting XV with a total of 842 caps compared to England's total of 314.
Twickenham will be painted black with New Zealand winning by about 10 points.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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