The cavalry arrives for both sides this weekend in Dunedin as New Zealand and England look to prove a point for very different reasons.
The cavalry arrives for both sides this weekend in Dunedin as New Zealand and England look to prove a point for very different reasons on Saturday.
England weren't given a hope seven days ago as the bookmakers gave them a 21-point start in a game no one expected to be close in Auckland.
How wrong we all were as a depleted XV almost ended the All Blacks' long unbeaten run at Eden Park, Conrad Smith's late try winning the fixture.
This Saturday the plot thickens as star names return donning black and white, as Julian Savea, Tom Wood, Danny Care, Owen Farrell, Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell come in for their respective teams. Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Billy Vunipola and Chris Ashton bolster the bench.
Now while many an Englishman from that opener may be forgiven for feeling aggrieved at losing their spot – the likes of Freddie Burns, Jonny May, Kyle Eastmond and James Haskell – such is the culture that Stuart Lancaster has instilled, one would bet they are now fully behind the incomers.
Ethos, desire and belief have been three hallmarks of this English side of late and it was apparent last week that New Zealand had been impressed by what they'd seen ahead of kick-off. There's little doubt that at full-time the hosts knew this was a challenger in 2015.
Yes, next year is where all roads lead but there'll be ample time to assess teams' chances at the end of June as now the focus is on what happened last week and how things may unravel at Forsyth Barr Stadium – a roofed venue where some believe kickers struggle.
The opening Test began with real tempo as England took the game to the All Blacks, with the hosts fortunate not to be down to fourteen men when Ma'a Nonu avoided a card for a blatant shirt pull on flanker Haskell. Referee Nigel Owens stressed at the resulting restart, “it will be more than a penalty next time…”. This, for any onlooker, rankles as an offence early on should be the same as any other. The match is the match from minute 1 until 80.
New Zealand were very much out of sorts as a combination of rustiness – it being their first game together in 2014 – and also England disabling any form of momentum, led to a high error count from the home side. Head coach Steve Hansen has since labelled their skills as their “poorest ever”, with Israel Dagg one of many struggling with the basics. This week he drops out of the 23 due to injury as Ben Smith moves to his favoured full-back position.
The statistics won't have made the All Blacks sleep any easier too as it's not often England pass, run and make more metres than them. Even more worrying for Hansen will have been the fact the hosts kicked nine times more than the visitors, which is very un-All Black like.
Such rust therefore surely won't be repeated by the All Blacks as while they will kick behind Manu Tuilagi in his much-publicised unfamiliar right wing position, expect much more ball to be kept in hand with Savea's threat utilised. His destructiveness was sorely missed.
And there lies the question of how much will New Zealand improve after blowing off the early-season cobwebs or will England kick on with their new faces? There will certainly be an improved confidence in the visiting mindset but while the hosts have clearly been rattled, a black backlash is expected on Saturday in a perfect stadium for another outstanding Test.
Ones to watch:
For New Zealand: Stuart Lancaster had a big call to make at lock as Geoff Parling was a nuisance for the All Black line-out at Eden Park. Rightly, he stuck with the Leicester man who caused Dane Coles and his jumpers a few issues, with Courtney Lawes set to be utilised as an impact player. Coles has been busy in Super Rugby this year, making carries all over the field, but came off second best to Rob Webber last week. He'll be fired up.
For England: Plenty of names spring to mind as a new-look England hope to turn things around seven days on, none more so than centre Billy Twelvetrees. In for Kyle Eastmond, who silenced many of his doubters in Auckland, Twelvetrees has for a good while now been backed by Lancaster because of his superior distributing skills and if he and Six Nations midfield partner Luther Burrell get on top, England's chances of a win vastly improve.
Head-to-head: No debate as Julian Savea collides with Manu Tuilagi. Both are devastating going forward and it will be an intriguing battle on the touchline. However, don't expect them to be hugging the chalk throughout as both will come in-field looking for work, with Savea often found on the shoulder off set plays hunting an offload from scrum-half or fly-half. Tuilagi meanwhile will be tested by Cruden with balls that make him turn but with Mike Brown helping – along with his strength in contact – that shouldn't be too much of a concern.
2014: New Zealand won 20-15 in Auckland
2013: New Zealand won 30-22 at Twickenham
2012: England won 38-21 at Twickenham
2010: New Zealand won 26-16 at Twickenham
2009: New Zealand won 19-6 at Twickenham
2008: New Zealand won 32-6 at Twickenham
2008: New Zealand won 44-12 in Christchurch
2008: New Zealand won 37-20 in Auckland
2006: New Zealand won 41-20 at Twickenham
2005: New Zealand won 23-19 at Twickenham
2004: New Zealand won 36-12 in Auckland
2004: New Zealand won 36-3 in Dunedin
2003: England won 15-13 in Wellington
2002: England won 31-28 at Twickenham
Prediction: New Zealand will have tidied up their act and while England will come hard again, the hosts are surely set to show greater patience in possession. Home field stars Ben and Aaron Smith to raise their game as the All Blacks win by 8 in another close one!
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Victor Vito, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Manu Tuilagi, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Chris Ashton.
Date: Saturday, June 14
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)