Friday Nov 5, 2010
Contrasting fortunes in their respective last tests will be key motivational drivers for the All Blacks and England this Sunday.
In a quirk of fate, Australia are the team both New Zealand and England last encountered, with the former receiving a sharp reminder about the need for focus and intensity and the latter believing their victory in Sydney five months ago to be the start of something special.
The All Blacks, with 15 consecutive wins before that defeat in Hong Kong, have already shrugged off the demons. They have identified where they went wrong and most of their problems are fixable.
"The big thing was we put ourselves under a lot of pressure," says captain Richie McCaw.
"When we get the ball we need to be ruthless.
"A couple of things we got wrong in our previous two games as well but we got away with them. Because we broke up straight after them we didn't address them as well as we could."
The pedigree of the All Blacks' work this year alludes to Hong Kong being a blip.
Defeat has brought an edge to training this week, put some competitive tension back in the squad and earned an extra half-hour of hard work on Tuesday under the watchful eye of Graham Henry.
The All Blacks appear to have drawn a similar amount of intelligence from England's last encounter. Despite England having barely a 40 per cent win ratio under manager Martin Johnson, there is a sense of them having turned a corner.
Their victory in Sydney came out of the blue, given that England scraped past Italy in the Six Nations, drew with Scotland and lost to France and Ireland.
Yet it is a victory from which a number of conclusions have been reached, the most notable being the belief now held within the All Blacks' camp that they will encounter a side at Twickenham imminently capable of playing expansive, tempo rugby.
"The way the game has been going, to compete you have to be able to use the ball well," says McCaw. "They showed that against the Wallabies. Their fullback is pretty good with the ball in hand and kicking looks to be his second option. They have got more guys who have got the attitude to use it but they still kick well.
"When they get the balance different to how they have had it in the past it makes them more threatening."
There is perhaps an element of undue respect being paid to the English. Before that game in Sydney they had been fairly awful, with no real understanding of how to create and exploit space.
Ben Foden may well be a counter-attacking fullback with cavalier ambition but the basic skill level of the English backs and their loose trio would be well down on what the All Blacks can offer in those areas.
Pass and run does not come naturally. The English Premiership, where most of Johnson's squad ply their trade, still has a heavy emphasis on the set piece and a preference for the kick-and-chase game.
If England are brave enough to open the game up, they will need to be prepared to slug out an enormous aerobic shift - something many of their tight forwards will not be keen on.
England can be proud of what they achieved in Australia, but scepticism remains about whether it will usher in a new world of ball-in-hand football.
Defeat against the Wallabies has given the All Blacks a new focus. Victory against the Wallabies might have given England an inflated confidence about their ability to play more expansive rugby.
By Gregor Paul