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Near perfection required to beat the All Blacks

There are very few teams in any sport that are a bigger draw in their game than the All Blacks are in Rugby Union.

I have had the pleasure of watching the All Blacks live twice in my life, both in the 1999 Rugby World Cup, first in their quarter final against Scotland and then in that famous semi final defeat to France.

Tomorrow I will have the great privilege of seeing them live for a third time when they take on England at Twickenham, from where I will be tweeting live updates from @FifteenRugbyXV among other things.

To be able to watch the off the ball work of some of these greats like Richie McCaw and Kieran Read will be a privilege, while to be able to watch the running lines of some of their backs will be just mesmerising.

The question on everybody’s lips though is can England win, can they repeat that marvellous feat of last year and end the All Blacks’ winning run?

The simple answer is yes, as long as sport remains sport then there is always a chance of victory.

However simple is the one thing that it most certainly will not be. This All Blacks side is regarded as one of the best in history, their dominance since winning the 2011 World Cup has been scarcely believable, that England victory last year is their only defeat since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.

They have not just done it with the same old players either, of their 36 man touring squad only 13 were in the World Cup squad. They are sweeping all before them and all the while they are blooding fresh talent, preparing for the next challenge.

Add to that the fact that they have probably eight players who could be considered the best in the world in their position, while the rest are not far off, the clinical nature of their play, their deep understanding both of the game and of each other’s games, and their supreme counter attacking game – among countless other qualities – and the size of England’s task seems monumental.

However it is back to that World Cup semi final in ’99 that I turn when considering England’s chances.

Forget the fact that New Zealand’s winger Charles Piutau was just eight at the time – that game resonates because it shows that in any game there is always a chance.

As now the All Blacks were supreme and were in fine form, indeed they showed that by building up a commanding first half lead.

However France saw that lead and raised it by producing a half of near perfect rugby to beat the All Blacks and reach the final.

It is that which is relevant if England are to win tomorrow – a near perfect performance won it.

That is what England produced last year, and it is what they must do again this year, that is the only way you can beat this side, to turn in a performance of near perfection both in attack and defence, taking every opportunity that comes your way.

The problem? In 1999 the All Blacks took their eye off the ball, they thought they had the game won. This All Blacks side will not let their concentration slip like that. They are too disciplined, too well grounded, too full of determination to avenge last year’s Twickenham defeat.

It is a sizeable task for England but if they believe in themselves and achieve that near perfect performance they can do it. The mind does funny things under pressure and if England replicates aspects of last year’s play that sense of déjà vu may just haunt the All Blacks.

Centurions

Dan Carter will win his 100th international cap for the All Blacks on Saturday, and he will have three other centurions with him in Richie McCaw, Kevin Mealamu, and Tony Woodcock.

In Cardiff Gethin Jenkins will also win his 100th Test Cap when he lines up to face Argentina.

His experience will be vital given that the inexperienced Rhodri Jones has been selected at tighthead following Adam Jones’ injury.

There is further inexperience in the centres where uncapped 20-year-old Cory Allen will start alongside Scott Williams in place of the injured Jonathan Davies.

It is some pretty bold selecting from Warren Gatland but, as his dropping of Brian O’Driscoll for the Lions showed, he has never been afraid of a big selection call.

From a personal point of view the back row will be of particular interest though, with Justin Tipuric replacing the injured Dan Lydiate, recreating the Warburton, Tipuric, Faletau triumvirate that destroyed England at the end of the Six Nations. If they play like that again then Argentina could be struggling.

Irish hope

All of the Australia related talk this autumn has been asking about whether Wales can finally get that win over them, but how about Ireland?

They play Australia tomorrow and looking through that Irish side it is full of top players and they are very capable of beating Australia.

The back row of O’Mahony, O’Brien, and Heaslip is as good as any, with Paul O’Connell captaining the side they have the right man in charge, and in O’Driscoll, Sexton, Kearney, and Bowe they still have magical backs.

‘Phenomenal’ Scotland

Bakkies Botha described Scotland as ‘phenomenal’ this week as he prepared for his first Springbok selection for two years having been flown over from Toulon by Heyneke Meyer.

It is probably not a word that any Scottish fans would use to describe their team but nonetheless it shows that South Africa are taking Scotland seriously after being stung at Murrayfield a couple of years ago and nearly getting beaten in South Africa this summer.

Can Scotland beat South Africa? Well like England with New Zealand, of course, it will just be an almighty task.

Scotland have a bit of a track record in recent years for surprise victories over top class opposition though, so it is best not to write them off.

They might not be phenomenal but they are certainly dogged and they are on an upward trend. It is a shame that the likes of Stuart Hogg, Matt Scott, and Tim Visser are injured though, that is some serious talent to be missing out on.

Final Word

I had the privilege of watching Wellington College v Sedbergh on Wednesday and it truly was a privilege. Both side produced a game of such intensity that it would have been fit to grace almost any stage.

If you ever wanted any indication as to just how good, and how special, schoolboy rugby is, that was it. The quality and intensity was marvellous, the emotion was raw and the atmosphere around the pitch was a fantastic mix of nerves, encouragement, and appreciation.

You will certainly come across a few of the names in those two sides on your TV screens over the next few years.

As last week, I will be at Twickenham covering the England v New Zealand game tomorrow and will be tweeting live on @FifteenRugbyXV – make sure to tweet us during the game with your thoughts & opinions, there ought to be plenty to debate.

By Angus Savage

@AngusSavageXV

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