By Neil Leverett and Nicola Kenton
- After a narrow 12-11 victory over South Africa, Eddie Jones’ men face the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday
- This weekend’s second Autumn international sees the two sides meet for first time in over four years
- Clash seen as litmus test less than 12 months away from 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan
TWICKENHAM, LONDON – After edging past the Springboks last weekend, the Red Rose now face a severe examination of their World Cup credentials as the All Blacks lie in wait this weekend.
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All Blacks seek to puncture England’s South African optimism
After what has seemed to have been an interminable wait for England to go head-to-head with New Zealand on the rugby field, this weekend finally sees the match-up many a sports fan has been waiting for as Twickenham plays host on Saturday afternoon in the host’s second Autumn international.
Coming out marginally on top after Owen Farrell‘s late penalty kick against South Africa last weekend, Eddie Jones‘ men have been given a much-needed shot in the arm against a Springbok side that only weeks before had beaten this weekend’s opponents 36-34 in Wellington during this September’s extraordinary Test match in the Rugby Championship.
Whilst last Saturday was a vital win for a rather flagging side that had suffered series defeat in South Africa and having also endured their worst Six Nations tournament in recent years at the beginning of the year, the test that Steve Hansen‘s men bring this time around is very real indeed.
Having prepared for this weekend’s showdown themselves versus Jones’ former side and next years World Cup hosts Japan with a 31-69 win in Tokyo, a near full-strength Kiwi side lie is wait to snuff out any hopes of a resurgent run during the crucial next few months.
A meeting years in the making
Having planned this game almost two years in advance, fans will finally get to see whether this current England crop has what it takes to lock horns with the Kieran Read‘s side. Unfortunately for England however, since the match was made, the fortunes of the hosts have rather gone backwards, with Head Coach Jones himself having to face mounting questions over his job with the national side.
For the All Blacks, having sealed another series win against South Africa, Australia and Argentina, their loss at the Westpac two months ago came as something of a shock and just a fortnight later the Kiwis survived back-to-back losses in yet another gripping clash – this time in Pretoria – courtesy of Ardie Savea‘s dramatic last minute try.
As for England in particular, this will be a marker for to see how they have improved – or not – in four years. The last time England played New Zealand at Twickenham was in November 2014 – the contest saw the All Blacks come on top by 24-21 – however that was a different English side. The personnel may not be massively different but the back room staff have certainly changed as well as the style of play.
In the intervening period, some English players made the British Lions squad and were part of the historic series which was drawn at 1-1. It’s been 18-months since that the Lions travelled to NZ, but what what did the likes of Farrell, Elliott Daly, Maro Itoje and Ben Youngs learn from those Tests? The last time New Zealand lost to England was in December 2012 when Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barrit scored. The All Blacks’ latest incumbents in Rieko Ioane, Ben Smith and the unrelenting and majestic Beauden Barrett are sure to test English resolve.
‘Ash the Splash’ returns
Ashton will make his first start for England in for years this weekend. The Sale winger returned to English rugby union this year and immediately was recalled to the England squad to feature in the Autumn Internationals.
In May, Ashton faced England as part of Pat Lam’s Barbarians side where his hat-trick helped his side to victory. The winger got his first England call up when at Northampton Saints, before he moved to Saracens.
Game time became less frequent at the London club so Ashton moved to Toulon and became the record try-scorer for a season with 24 tries. Last weekend the winger came off the bench as England recorded a hard-fought victory against South Africa.
As documented, Ashton was involved when the Rose last beat the All Blacks six years ago so can ‘Ash the splash’ live up to his name? Four years has been a long time to wait for the current and former champions to meet on the hallowed turf in west London, but this weekend the Rugby Union world will learn much about both side’s World Cup chances next year.
England face World champions New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon, kick off 3pm BST.
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