Arrogance may have cost the All Blacks last week against the Wallabies, when they subbed Dan Carter with 20 minutes to go. Stephen Donald’s mistakes handed the Wallabies an opportunity for the comeback, one they didn’t miss.
This week Graham Henry has maintained his pivotal pair, Carter and Richie McCaw, in the starting team, but he has rotated by bringing in Sonny Bill Williams for his debut at outside centre ahead of Conrad Smith, and elevating Alby Mathewson ahead of Jimmy Cowan.
The latter couple of selections may hint at arrogance again, but bringing that pair into a side filled with settled combinations is a wise move. Williams is seen as the perfect physical specimen for what a centre should look like, and if the All Blacks move the English defence around as much as they’re hoping to, the former Rugby League star could expose Mike Tindall’s lack of pace and the holes in the midfield.
Mathewson will also be buoyed by the presence of established players such as Carter and Kieran Read, and his promotion isn’t much of a risk as it may initially seem. The English have failed to find a consistent style under Martin Johnson since 2008, alternating between the set-piece orientated game and attack coach Brian Smith’s side-to-side option.
Their last showing against Australia in June provided the perfect template however, as they used their big pack to provide the go-forward, and then took the ball flatter at flyhalf. Scrumhalf Ben Youngs was also instrumental in sniping around the fringes, and if they produced a similar showing, they’ll have another chance of an upset.
The verbals in the build-up have been typically spicy from the English side, with defence coach Mike Ford setting of the jousting with this comment on the Tri-Nations: “There were three games averaging out at 77 points each. That’s not Test rugby.”
Ford’s dig highlights how England will try make this an arm-wrestle and slow the game up as much as possible the thwart the All Blacks’ attacking game, but his reference to those three Tests is also unfounded as only one of those Tests included the All Blacks, and that was when they beat Australia 49-28 in Melbourne.
One of the key traits of the All Blacks has been their physical, uncompromising defence, which they’ll be hoping to impose on England on Saturday.
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody (captain), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 David Wilson, 18 Dave Attwood, 19 Hendrie Fourie, 20 Danny Care, 21 Charlie Hodgson, 22 Delon Armitage.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Josevata Rokocoko, 13 Sonny Bill Williams, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Hikawera Elliot, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Isaia Toeava.
Date: Saturday 6 November
Venue: Twickenham, London
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Sunny intervals with a minimum of 6°C and high of 11°C with light rain possibly later
Referee: Romain Poite
Assistant referees: Stuart Dickinson (Australia), David Changleng (Scotland)
TMO: Giulio De Santis (Italy)