By Jamie Wall
Opinion – The weekend game with predictable, former powerhouse England underlines the dangers of planning tests too far ahead.
I guess this is what happens when you schedule a test match too far in advance. This weekend’s game between the All Blacks and England was being boosted as the most important outside of a Rugby World Cup when it was announced two years ago.
Back then, England were on a roll – they were unbeaten in 2016 and seemingly banishing the memories of their ignominious exit from the World Cup that they’d hosted the year before.
Eddie Jones was being hailed as some sort of messiah for getting his side back to where they really should be all the time.
At least close to the top of the pile, constantly threatening the All Blacks and leading the way for the European nations due to their immense wealth and resources.
Although 2017 brought another Six Nations championship, the English had their winning streak snapped by Ireland, the team that would soon assume the mantle of the top team in this part of the world.
Things were still looking on for their showdown with the All Blacks to be the heavyweight title fight that everyone was hoping it was going to be.
Then this season happened.
England have lost five tests in 2018.
To put it in perspective, that’s the same loss tally the 1998 All Blacks managed.
That’s a season that All Black fans often try and forget ever happened, and would gladly have stricken from the records if it were possible.
Everyone worked England out – their gameplan only had a shelf-life of so long, and no one at the RFU listened to the advice from Australia and New Zealand that Jones historically is only a good coach for a couple of years before things start going wrong, fast.
Here’s the key problem in referring it to a heavyweight title fight, admittedly. When they are announced the two fighters don’t run the risk of sullying their reputation in the meantime.
But in that meantime, the All Blacks have kept on being the All Blacks.
Aside from a loss to their greatest rivals, the Springboks, it’s been a season of wins achieved in highly entertaining fashion.
England have reverted back to a very conservative game plan that most New Zealand followers of the game will readily associate with them anyway, so just what will happen when these two styles clash at Twickenham?
The short answer is: an All Black victory. There’s too much talent in the side that Steve Hansen has named to face England, in fact there’s more than enough talent that isn’t in it, either.
Jack Goodhue will link up with Sonny Bill Williams in the midfield, which was one of the big talking points leading up to the naming.
Dane Coles has bullocked his way back onto the bench after a successful return last weekend in Tokyo, while Damian McKenzie has got the nod at fullback.
The only hiccup they’ve had this week is the ridiculously gruesome eyelid injury that’s forced Joe Moody to call time on his season.
Thanks to the Lions tour, England do possess some names that All Black fans will recognise as individually very good players.
A lot rests on the topical shoulders of Owen Farrell, who will metronomically kick any opportunity given to him.
Ben Te’o against SBW will be interesting, although the All Blacks will definitely target the inexperienced Ben Moon at loosehead.
But the English will need to score a lot of points, and that means a lot of tries.
Just how they’re going to do that remains to be seen, given that they couldn’t crack a Springbok defensive line last weekend that’s often been hemorrhaging five-pointers this year.
The main soundbite of the week from both Hansen and the All Blacks is how England play a ‘different’ style, and how it doesn’t make them a worse or better team.
Given both of their records his year, it’s hard to take the latter claim seriously.