Tragically, I cannot be at Twickenham because I am in foreign fields on a business trip. So as I search for a television in a random bar, I have a real sense of excitement. These are the sporting clashes that whet the appetite, and even as professionals, are the reasons why people play this great game of rugby.
It’s all about levels of expectation. Over the years, England has made a good fist (relatively speaking) of turning over the All Blacks at Twickenham – one thinks back to 1983, 1993, and of course 2012 most famously. Rumours of food poisoning, Kiwi fatigue and a sense of the one-off have diminished that triumph. Since that victory, England has performed well at their home ground and has publicly declared the wish to restore the Woodward-inspired status of Twickenham as a fortress. Lancaster has unashamedly drawn on the sense of fostering a growing England identity as well as applauding New Zealand’s status as the No.1 team in global sport, outside the US of course, where none of us have a clue whether a Basketball, American Football or Baseball team could challenge! I have long admired Lancaster as a supreme PR operator – a big job awaits him somewhere in that field, if he decides he has had enough of rugby. This time he has excelled himself and set up a fascinating contest.
However, pride and a low level of expectation isn’t the whole story. England does expect to win, so how will they do it? If the All Blacks turn up this time, which I believe they will, then England will have to score tries. This means that Twelvetrees will have to have the game of his life as a tactician, leaving Farrell to kick his goals and help Dickson get England to the right places on the pitch. Foden and Brown are potentially world class, they have their chance to prove it today. I think the England front five will take the All Blacks in the tight, which leaves the swing factors in the back row and halfbacks. Carter can be squeezed, we have seen that before, and without Conrad Smith he may feel isolated. Ben Smith has no more centre experience than Tomkins, for whom it is time to step up.
The stunning form of Kieran Read has been the year’s revelation, so Billy Vunipola and Wood will get into his face for 80 minutes – that is key. McCaw, in the twilight of his amazing career, cannot possibly have as poor a game as he did last year – can he? Step forward Robshaw, who has copped plenty of criticism in recent times. A strong 80 minutes and a victory can take all of that away.
I have written here previously that the England collective hurt the players in Lions selection – and I still think individual brilliance will be needed at Twickenham this afternoon. But a combination of exceptional defence, accurate kicking and pride can take us to the brink and if it comes down to a little luck, a fresh home team laying down a marker may well back themselves to take a slice and secure a win.
Of course, I could be 100% wrong, Carter’s golden boots will glisten in his 100th test, and the irresistible style of play employed by the best sporting team in the world will cement an unbeaten calendar year.
Isn’t that the glorious uncertainty of team sport? I can’t wait. From the unfamiliar surroundings of a television in a far-flung place which will be a poor substitute for being at Twickenham, I say, Bring it on!!
Will England repeat their heroics of 12 months ago or are this All Blacks side too strong and with too much momentum? Comments below…