Match Preview; NZ v England 8 November 2014

7 November 2014

Getting set for the resumption of the England v New Zealand rugby rivalry the recent history favours the 2014 All Blacks but it seems the English will present a formidable opposition at Twickenham on Saturday. I'm so glad to be here to see it unfold...

Your correspondent arrived in London three days before match day. I am here with my wife Anne as co-tour leaders for the Williment Travel Group and Gulliver's Travel. We have 36 very keen New Zealand rugby fans with us. We are all expectantly looking forward to the three internationals which lie ahead for the All Blacks.

Some of our supporter's group, led by the popular ex-All Black captain Dave Loveridge and his wife Jan, had last week been to the first tour match in Chicago, Illinois. All spoke warmly of their rugby experience there. So we are now all together, about 80 of us across two leadership groups and two coach loads, with much to be excited about.

The first matter of anticipation was to see Sonny Bill Williams's name on the starting list for the All Blacks team for Saturday v England. This had been my hope straight away after seeing the additions SBW brought to the New Zealand back line in his time on the field in Chicago. Back in the rugby union game after two years in rugby league he 'ran angles' (a term I usually hate) which added more dimensions to the All Black attacks. No disrespect to Ma'a Nonu and Melakai Fekitoa. Plus the unique off-loading methods of Williams (which used to be called 'passing') he slotted in so smoothly in Chicago offering still more opportunities to go the way of others in the New Zealand team attacks. The honest USA team just couldn't cope with the breadth of the running assaults which came at them. A 74-6 result followed. Sonny Bill scored two tries as well as giving and receiving many assists.

So I am happy with the powerful New Zealand starting XV which coach Hansen will run out. The rest of the players, apart from Williams, have been Hansen's regulars this year. He has resumed his preference for Aaron Cruden to be the starting first five-eighths with Beauden Barrett waiting on the bench to add his genius at the Hansen call-up time.
With this team I expect New Zealand to win. But mark my words - since first coming to Twickenham to see an NZ-England match (back in 1978) every game has been a classic of the highest quality and keenness of contest.

It has been intriguing to read the newspapers since arriving here. Each one I have picked up has been doing major-sized profiles on the New Zealand team and All Black issues. Last night I read a significant profile on Jerome Kaino with details of why he left New Zealand after the 2011 Rugby World Cup and went to Japan - and why he returned in 2014. 'I watched the AB games from Japan,' said Kaino, 'and realised how much I missed the competition of test rugby...I felt I could still add something to the team so I decided to being my family back to New Zealand and compete for the jersey again.'

Another paper ran a big profile on Daniel Carter, written from Chicago; they were seemingly surprised that Carter is not playing on Saturday. I also wonder. We know that the All Blacks these days speak sometimes in expressions of language which test what is truly happening. So I wonder - is Carter hurt again? We shall see I guess when the team to play Scotland in a week is named.

The Daily Mail ran a very deep piece on Kieran Read in which he told of how his wife Bridget 'still has concerns about Kieran sustaining the sort of head knocks which ended the career of people like Leon McDonald.'

Said Read, 'Bridget let me come back (to rugby after having a couple of severe concussions this year) only after she knew I was going to be well looked after by the medics. I've got a great family with two little girls. I was never going to be risking my health.'

Kinda makes me think though. With Richie McCaw also having had the same concussion problems in the past should we wonder - do we have two of our All Black 'leadership group' still under close concussion scrutiny - with the Rugby World Cup now only 11 months away - not to mention a long and healthy lifespan ahead. Are there still major concerns also hidden in 'expressions of language' from the team.? I hope not.

I am told concussion recovery does not 'go away.' It can lead to all kinds of worries in the years ahead.

Still that is for the future; England also has injuries of a similar type; James Haskell and Geoff Parling being just two of their very prominent current starts who have had to lie low in recent times.
But what remains is a significant team still who, with 70,000 screaming 'Swing Low' fervent followers will be ready to give New Zealand a great game to start this end of year UK tour.
• Personal note; Your columnist did his first ever live test match call on TVNZ from Eden Park in 1973. The game was England v New Zealand. England had been hurredly invited to come to New Zealand as a substitute tour after that year's scheduled Springboks tour, had been called off. England played three lead-up games against Taranaki, Wellington and Canterbury and they lost them all. That put the All Blacks into the final tour game as firm favourites. But they were soundly beaten by 16-10. It was a major shock in the rugby world.

The loss meant the end of Ian Kirkpatrick as an All Black test captain.

Six others in the team, including the grizzled Alex Wyllie never played for their country again.

Beforehand, in the TVNZ office there had been much conjecture as to who of us would commentate the game; I got assigned to do the job but Bill McCarthy, later a newsreader, certainly had a following. I vividly remember being accosted after the game by a young bloke who told me ‘the All Blacks would have won if Bill McCarthy had been commentating!’

The result was England first win over the All Blacks for 37 years.



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