How to beat the All Blacks?
November 30, 2012
Can England coach Stuart Lancaster conjure a season-defining victory over New Zealand from his charges at Twickenham on Saturday? © Getty Images
England and New Zealand will do battle for the Hilary Shield at Twickenham on Saturday and it is set to take a monumental effort similar to that of the legendary mountaineer whose name adorns the silverware if the hosts are to scale rugby's Everest.
Ten sides have tried and failed to conquer the All Blacks since they were last beaten by old foes Australia in the 2011 Tri-Nations decider. That 20-game unbeaten run - with a draw against the Wallabies' last month the only blemish - has seen them lay claim the Rugby World Cup crown and The Rugby Championship bragging rights.
Any thoughts that the sport's biggest prize would quench their thirst for success were simply wishful thinking. A rejuvenated All Blacks side has simply raised the bar again with an awe-inspiring ad sometimes breath-taking approach to the game that has left the rest of the world playing catch-up rugby. A capacity crowd will pack English rugby's HQ on Saturday in order to witness the masters of the rugby universe for themselves and in the hope that England can cause a major upset - but how?
No dithering with decisions
England's game management has come under the microscope in the last fortnight with key decisions at pivotal times arguably contributing to their defeats at the hands of Australia and then South Africa. Perhaps more alarming was fly-half Owen Farrell's decision to question his captain Chris Robshaw's chosen tactics. Such division will spell trouble against the All Blacks and England must ensure they are all singing from the same hymn sheet on Saturday.
Build a score
The All Blacks have conceded an average of just over 11 points per game on their unbeaten run which suggests they are not only the most dazzling side with ball in hand, they are also the most Scrooge-like in defence. That water-tight stats is reinforced by the fact that they have conceded an average of just over one try per game during that same 20-game run. Not the most heartening news for an England side struggling to find a cutting edge. With visits to the 'red zone' likely to be hard to come by, every scoring opportunity must be grabbed with both hands. Do not expect a gamble if England are handed a kickable penalty and the game is in the balance.
Raise the intensity
A game-defining intensity - symbolised by a gut-busting defensive showing - was arguably the key to Australia's victory over the All Blacks in Brisbane in 2011 and the same could be said for South Africa's triumph over the Kiwis the week prior to that. The Wallabies displayed some similar characteristics when earning a draw against their trans-Tasman rivals last month where a lack of errors also helped stem the All Black tide. The trouble is that such a level of intensity and the ability to execute under pressure comes as second nature to this current All Blacks side whereas their rivals can only dream of such consistency. On the latest evidence, England are some way from delivering such a high-octane yet controlled showing. We have seen only brief glimpses of such endeavour and a complete 80-minute performance will be required to triumph on Saturday.
'Keep getting up'
This simple mantra has served All Blacks flanker Richie McCaw well throughout his success-laden 115-Test career and should be noted by an England side looking to send him off on his sabbatical on a losing note. You may not like the way McCaw operates or what you see as his ability to evade punishment at the breakdown but you cannot question his commitment or work rate. That insane level of industry serves as inspiration for the rest of his side and they follow suit to often devastating effect. Only by matching those standards can England hope to live with the All Blacks - let alone beat them.
Not to take anything away from his deputy Aaron Cruden, whose undoubted talents make him arguably the second best fly-half in the world, but New Zealand are a more knee-trembling prospect with Dan Carter in the No.10 shirt. While his skipper McCaw and his cohorts hammer away up front, Carter provides the finesse as a playmaker without equal. Blessed with an awe-inspiring ability to leaves defenders grasping at thin air, and an unrivalled backline packing power and pace, he calls the shots and makes it look so easy. Keeping the ball out of his hands is easier said than done but it is the key to England upsetting the odds. That will require a monumental effort from the team as a whole and a performance from his England counterpart Owen Farrell that is good enough to silence those who mocked his inclusion on the shortlist for this year's IRB Player of the Year.
Back to basics
One of the headline-grabbing aspects of the All Blacks' latest march through Europe has been their ability to cut down their rivals by simply employing the basics - but to devastating effect. In particular it has been the forwards' mastery of catch-run-pass that has had pundits gushing and opposing fans on their feet. This is nothing new to those more familiar with the standards this side set for itself, but their rivals continue to strive for such excellence. And when married to an equally impressive level of understanding between all the players it makes for an enthralling spectacle. England appear a little disjointed in contrast and such harmony may even be a generation away and require a re-think as to how players are developed and then coached. At the very least, England must hold their own at the re-start, lineout and scrum time if they are to even have a platform from which to threaten the All Blacks.
Get a little nasty
This is by no means a recommendation that England go outside the laws of the game as that is a recipe for disaster. But controlled aggression is one of the keys to unsettling the All Blacks and knocking them out of their stride. Every scrum, ruck and tackle must be attacked with the kind of ferocity reserved for someone threatening your next of kin. Think Liam Neeson in Taken. You would not label the All Blacks as a dirty side but they are no strangers to the citing procedure with two of their players having been banned during this current tour. That no-nonsense approach and tone-setting physicality helps preserve the aura that surrounds them and influences their rivals. The loss of the brute force often provided by the likes of hooker Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes has not helped England's cause in recent weeks and they must front up like never before. Of course, poking the bear comes with a certain amount of risk.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.