Clash of styles as England face All Blacks

Saturday, 6 November 2010 04:38 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A heavyweight collision of rugby philosophies is in prospect on Saturday when a physical England will seek to stifle the potent attacking flair of the All Blacks at Twickenham.

After an unbeaten Tri-Nations campaign which has been hailed as a seminal moment in the history of the sport, New Zealand launch their grand slam tour against an English side promising a return to “old-fashioned” Test rugby.

Exploiting a change in interpretation of the breakdown law to thrilling effect, New Zealand racked up a record number of tries (22) and points (184) during an unprecedented clean sweep of victories this season.

Yet the the high-scoring nature of the Tri-Nations has been openly ridiculed by England defence coach Mike Ford.

“I think there were three games in the Tri-Nations that produced an average of 77 points,” Ford said. “That for me is not Test rugby.”

The response from the All Blacks management was withering.

“I don’t know whether it’s worth commenting on is it? I just find it ridiculous,” New Zealand coach Graham Henry said.

All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen is confident New Zealand will be able to impose their style of play on an English team who, he suspected, wanted the match to descend into “an arm wrestle”.

“I think they would be happy to go from set-piece to set-piece to set-piece, to take us on in that area and see if they can beat us,” Hansen said.

“We can’t back away from it, but it doesn’t stop us playing our own style of rugby and asking different questions of them.”

While Ford’s comments have grabbed the headlines, England manager Martin Johnson knows his side, still very much a work in progress, will need to offer more than brute force if they are to end a sequence of eight consecutive defeats by the All Blacks stretching back to 2003.

England have kept faith with 14 members of the team which started in the 21-20 victory over Australia in June, the only change being the return of powerful looseheadAndrew Sheridan at prop.

But the inexperience of England’s XV is reflected in the fact that no fewer than five of them - Chris Ashton, Ben Foden, Courtney Lawes, Shontayne Hape and Ben Youngs - have never started a Test at Twickenham.

Johnson, England’s 2003 World Cup-winning captain, has urged his rookies to respond positively to the challenge of facing New Zealand.

England skipper Lewis Moody believes the side are on an upward trajectory as they build towards next year’s World Cup.

“When you play the best team in the world, you are always underdogs but I have a lot of confidence in this team and the guys within it,” Moody said.

England’s defensive game plan will have to work out how to contain a talented New Zealand backline which has been given added beef by the arrival of rugby league convert Sonny Bill Williams, who starts at centre.

Williams is one of four changes from the side which saw New Zealand’s 15-match unbeaten run ended by Australia’s last-gasp 26-24 Bledisloe Cup victory in Hong Kong last weekend.

But while Williams’s inexperience may be targeted by England, Johnson’s men know they are facing an All Blacks whose skills-based style has benefited dramatically from the new law interpretations this year.

“The game has definitely changed in the last 12 months,” All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter said. “The game is faster and teams are attacking a lot more and getting a lot of advantages from doing that.

“We’re quite fortunate because that’s the kind of rugby we grow up loving to play in New Zealand.”