England out to ruin All Blacks' party
Tom Hamilton in Hamilton
June 20, 2014
England will have to halt Ben Smith if they are to win © Getty Images
If you wanted a sign of just how important the third Test is for both Stuart Lancaster and his New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen, then you only had to listen to the their press conferences this week. "We don't see this third game as any sort of dead rubber whatsoever, it's a hugely important game for us and New Zealand," Lancaster said. "They want to build momentum heading into the Rugby Championship and we wanted to finish the season strongly."
New Zealand already have the series sewn up after wins in Auckland and Dunedin. In truth, the All Blacks' third-quarter performance on Saturday was outstanding and the scoreline flattered England in the end but that match is now consigned to history, all the focus is on Hamilton in a day's time.
For New Zealand, they are chasing their 17th straight victory. While that pales in comparison to Cyprus' 23 on the bounce, if the All Blacks record yet another triumph at the weekend they will draw level with their previous run of wins back in the 1960s and South Africa's between 1998 and 1999. It would be a fitting landmark for a side who has dominated world rugby over the past few years.
England's motivation is to finish their 2013-14 Test programme on a high. No one has beaten the All Blacks on their own turf since 2009 and it would be a landmark result for Lancaster and his team with the World Cup creeping ever closer on the horizon. They head into Saturday's game with a win on New Zealand soil under their collective belts following Tuesday's comfortable victory over the Crusaders but Saturday's game will be another level or three up.
Any other team in the world would go into meltdown when you lose a player of Conrad Smith's ability. He is the pivot on which the All Blacks swivel but they have such an embarrassment of riches at their disposal that it has not knocked them off their stride. In comes Malakai Fekitoa for his first start and he has all the ability to be Smith's long-term replacement.
And then you have Kieran Read waiting in the wings. Jerome Kaino did a fine job at No.8 in the first two Tests but even he has to sometimes step aside and Read starts in his familiar position at the back of the scrum with Kaino shifting to blindside.
Earlier this week Lancaster said there would not be wholesale changes. A few days later and injury and a change in thought here and there have seen England make seven. The Manu Tuilagi wing experiment is shelved for one Test and he's back in the centres with Kyle Eastmond alongside him. Chris Ashton starts his first Test since November 2013 while Freddie Burns and Ben Youngs replace the injured Owen Farrell and Danny Care.
Chris Ashton is back for England © Getty Images
In the pack Billy Vunipola is back at No.8 with Courtney Lawes in the second-row and Dylan Hartley starting at hooker. England were forced into a late change with Geoff Parling missing out with Joe Launchbury brought back into the side and Dave Attwood on the bench.
England struggled to control the tempo of the game last weekend. In Lancaster's words, to use a football term, sometimes "you just need to put your foot on the ball". This weekend it will be Youngs' role to do that. He won't have it easy against Aaron Smith. The All Blacks No.9's an expert in contestable box kicks and such is the level of telepathy in the Kiwis' backs, he knows exactly where his team-mates are. That match-up will go a long way to determining how the game pans out.
Stats and Trivia
What they have said
"They are in a bit of a quandary really, because they took us on in Dunedin playing a game of real pace and worked out they couldn't. So what are they going to do now?" - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on England
"The ability to learn who can and who can't deliver at the highest level has been absolutely invaluable. You can watch as many DVDs and games as you like, but it's only when you get your hands on players week in week out that you really learn the true strengths of individuals." - England boss Stuart Lancaster
All Blacks by six in a kick-fest of a match
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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