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Preview: New Zealand v England

19th June 2014 16:38

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England New Zealand second Test Dunedin Tom Wood Richie McCaw

Friendly: Richie McCaw

With the series wrapped up but England competing until the death, New Zealand will aim for a 3-0 whitewash in Hamilton on Saturday.

You're forgiven for reaching the third Test this weekend wondering what might have been.

If only England had taken down New Zealand in Auckland, when the world champions played hideously, then we could have had a sumptuous series decider on our hands.

Sadly the contest is settled, New Zealand's 20-minute onslaught last weekend putting to bed any doubts of their supremacy - underlining how they have just needed to blow off the cobwebs to rediscover their true form.

England's late salvo to come back within a point does make the scoreboard flattering, but their determination was hugely admirable. Stuart Lancaster's men have plenty of bottle and determination.

Which is why it would be wrong to write off England completely in Hamilton, even though 3-0 feels like the most obvious outcome.

New Zealand's tight five set the tone as the All Blacks dominated all the key battle areas, assured of their personnel and certain of their strengths despite the criticism following an abject outing in Auckland.

Lancaster had to find out whether Manu Tuilagi truly could play on the wing. The reality is he can't at Test level, his lack of pure speed shown up as Ben Smith valiantly chased him down.

Despite the obvious dissatisfaction of England missing out on a try that Jonny May or Chris Ashton or Christian Wade would have had the speed to finish off, at least the uncertainty over Tuilagi's flexibility is gone. It was a decision not based around the obsession of beating the mythical All Blacks, but thinking ahead to the Rugby World Cup and beyond.

Tuilagi has duly been restored to his best position, front and centre in the All Blacks' faces. It's where he is most effective. Steve Hansen must have been delighted to see him deployed out on the fringes where he couldn't see enough of the ball, having harassed Conrad Smith in their last two encounters down that channel in 2012 and two weeks ago.

England for this final fling have reverted to what has worked best in the backs during their 160 minutes against the All Blacks thus far. Tuilagi is once against partnered by Kyle Eastmond, who quashed any defensive concerns at Eden Park along with providing a spark. Billy Twelvetrees just wasn't accurate enough last week, while Luther Burrell's missed tackles - seven between the two centres - were a growing concern.

Ashton will never please everybody, but he doesn't care. If his improvements this season with Saracens are still chosen to be ignored by those whose minds are made up, then they are at fault, not him.

Losing Danny Care and Owen Farrell is not quite as heavy a blow as you might have predicted before the Test series, as Ben Youngs and Freddie Burns swap back in.

Upfront, England are lucky enough to swap in two big performers for two players who have shone on this tour in Rob Webber and Ben Morgan. The challenge is for Dylan Hartley and Billy Vunipola to match their efforts. Geoff Parling couldn't be dropped after his 18 tackles last week, but has been forced to make way through injury for Joe Launchbury, who partners Courtney Lawes. England will miss Parling's leadership.

Lancaster should be pleased with the tour's progress, the 38-7 thrashing of the Crusaders providing the chance to watch those other members of the extended squad lay down a marker. Depth is everything before a Rugby World Cup and England now have it in spades.

They do not have quite as much gold in reserve as New Zealand though. Will the All Blacks be locked into an arm wrestle once again, or simply blow England away?

Two key changes draw attention - Malakai Fekitoa winning his first start in for Conrad Smith, with Kieran Read returning at number eight as Jerome Kaino switches to six.

Firstly, Fekitoa is an incredible talent but he will do well to match the influence and skill produced by Conrad Smith last week. The Hurricanes skipper was mesmeric, doing what Smith does with a typically unbelievable level of execution.

Ben Smith rightly took the plaudits for dictating from full-back - though England's dreadful kicking fuelled his onslaught - but the experienced figure in the 13 jersey was masterful.

Secondly, Liam Messam hasn't hit the heights of 2013 and rightly makes way. With Jerome Kaino back in the six jersey, the All Blacks have their World Cup winning trio back in the saddle with all of its balance and variety of skills. A combination that oozes class.

How many sides could win narrow Tests against another of the best teams in the world without the IRB Player of the Year in their ranks? Read's return, after struggles with concussion, will be examined under a microscope.

Certain members of the All Blacks side still need to impress. Dane Coles has looked lightweight, but showed what he is about in Dunedin. Tony Woodcock's durability is in doubt. Richie McCaw's missed tackle for Marland Yarde's try was wholly uncharacteristic. Aaron Cruden is lucky to keep his spot ahead of Beauden Barrett.

Seeing New Zealand win by margins of five points and one point at home against a touring side is a little unusual, regardless of how the second Test concluded.

New Zealand are nowhere near consistently at the top of their game, but only bursts of perfection are required for them to win. Will they toil again, or be unstoppable?

Ones to Watch:

For New Zealand: England's rolling maul was well contained after the opening quarter in Dunedin, with Brodie Retallick gripping the contest by the scruff of the neck and dictating the physical contests. Launchbury looked exhausted when he was replaced by Lawes, signs of not just a long season but a punishing workout against the Chiefs enforcer. Not that Retallick is merely a brute, having also taken seven lineouts last week. He probably has a better idea regarding the identity of his opposition after two Tests, even stating in the week that he had been impressed with England's tempo. More mind games? You decide.

For England: Was it simply a flash in the pan, or the sign of things to come? Few expected Freddie Burns to perform as well as he did at Eden Park given the shambles that was his season at Gloucester. Yet, Burns played well. Very well in fact, showing the composure and maturity required at Test level, but that Nigel Davies (now dismissed) had been unable to coax out of him at Kingsholm. His move to Leicester could be the making of him. For now, he gets another run out against the best of the world and has to match his Auckland showing step for step if England are to have a chance.

Head to Head: Impossible to take your eyes off Malakai Fekitoa and Manu Tuilagi in midfield. Less than a year separates the two juggernauts in age, but Tuilagi has already been to a Rugby World Cup and when at his best can be unplayable. Fekitoa has been similar in Super Rugby, relishing his breakthrough season with the Highlanders and rising to the ultimate accolade. The earth will shake.

Previous Results:

2014: New Zealand won 28-27 in Dunedin
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: Saturday marks the end of a long season for England's players, who even if they slump to a 3-0 series loss have put down a marker that they will be serious contenders in next year's Rugby World Cup on home soil.

Two fast starts have given England early advantages in the last two Tests, but if the All Blacks take the lead early it's tough to see England fighting their way back. This time, the margin might be slightly larger, although no less entertaining. New Zealand by eight.

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 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 Liam Messam, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty.

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (capt), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Luther Burrell.

Date: Saturday, June 21
Kickoff: 19:35 (local, 07:35 GMT)
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

by Ben Coles

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