Twick­en­ham in­tim­i­dat­ing stage for 11 fac­ing old foe in new fron­tier

The New Zealand Herald - - Supersport - com­ment

There are 11 All Blacks in their match day 23 who have never played Eng­land at Twick­en­ham be­fore.

To put that into some kind of per­spec­tive, the last time the All Blacks played at Twick­en­ham in 2014, there were only three play­ers — Pa­trick Tuip­u­lotu, TJ Per­e­nara and Beau­den Bar­rett who were all on the bench — new to the ex­pe­ri­ence.

In this mod­ern age of sat­u­rated test cov­er­age it is un­usual for there to be so many All Blacks — al­most half the team — who have never played against such a highly ranked Tier One op­po­nent.

But this sce­nario is not just a sta­tis­ti­cal quirk brought up for in­ter­est’s sake. This is a rel­e­vant is­sue for the All Blacks as play­ing Eng­land at Twick­en­ham – on Ar­mistice Day to boot – is one of the great chal­lenges in world rugby.

It ranks along­side play­ing the All Blacks at Eden Park or the Spring­boks at El­lis Park.

Es­sen­tially it is a must-tick item in any All Black's ca­reer as the ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing there takes in­di­vid­u­als to the cusp, and maybe be­yond, of their known men­tal and phys­i­cal fron­tiers.

Twick­en­ham is a rugby ex­pe­ri­ence like no other. Eng­land know how to drive a sense of oc­ca­sion bet­ter than any other na­tion and any­one who uses the term “caul­dron” to cat­e­gorise the ef­fect of a sta­dium, should wait un­til they have seen Eng­land play at Twick­en­ham be­fore they anoint any­where else with such a de­scrip­tion.

From these tow­er­ing stands will come this wall of noise that will drown out the haka. If Eng­land start well,

Swing Low will start to re­ver­ber­ate so loudly that no All Black will be able to hear them­selves think or have a clue what their team­mate next to them has said.

And as much as the at­mos­phere can in­tim­i­date op­po­nents, it in­spires Eng­land who have only lost there once in the last three years.

As a re­sult, the wheels can fall off quickly and dra­mat­i­cally for op­po­si­tion sides at Twick­en­ham.

The All Blacks dis­cov­ered that in 2012. Eng­land had been strug­gling for form un­til that day in early December and then boom . . . they clicked and New Zealand’s game un­rav­elled. They be­came al­most pow­er­less to stop the white ma­chine crush­ing them.

There is po­ten­tial for his­tory to re­peat. Eng­land are a good team who lost their way ear­lier this year and the way things are with their own me­dia, it doesn’t take much for them to be writ­ten off.

That’s how it is in Eng­land – there is no mid­dle ground, no per­spec­tive. When Eng­land were win­ning Ed­die Jones was be­ing pushed for a

knight­hood. They lose a few and it is off with his head.

The more bal­anced ap­praisal of Eng­land is that de­spite their in­juries, they are ca­pa­ble of find­ing the phys­i­cal edge, com­po­sure and ac­cu­racy to beat the All Blacks.

They are ca­pa­ble of tap­ping into the en­ergy cre­ated by the crowd, of rid­ing the sense of oc­ca­sion to slowly build the pres­sure to the point where the All Blacks could go pop.

And so this will be a test of lead­er­ship for the All Blacks as much as any­thing else. This is the game above all oth­ers that will de­ter­mine whether Kieran Read has the skills and strength of per­son­al­ity he needs to cap­tain his team in the most hos­tile en­vi­ron­ments.

If ever there was a game the All Blacks need to be tac­ti­cally cer­tain, this is it. There has to be clar­ity in their de­ci­sion-mak­ing and unity of un­der­stand­ing.

If things start go­ing wrong, the rot will have to be stopped quickly or Eng­land, as Ire­land did in Chicago two years ago, could push too far ahead on the score­board for a sal­vage job to be mus­tered.

Be­ing able to stay calm in those mo­ments when Eng­land are dom­i­nat­ing will be the de­cid­ing fac­tor as to whether the All Blacks win or not.

As All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said: “Play­ing Eng­land at home for any­body is a mas­sive chal­lenge. They have only been beaten there once in the re­cent reign.

“There will be 80,000 peo­ple singing songs and the only way we can call out them is by dom­i­nat­ing and so at some point they are go­ing to be singing be­cause we won’t dom­i­nate for the whole 80 min­utes.”

The All Blacks have ev­ery­thing they need to win. They have a com­mand­ing set-piece, an im­prov­ing driv­ing maul and a back­line with strike power.

They can pass and catch, kick and chase and tucked away is X-fac­tor that no one can match.

But it all has to be put to­gether in the right way. It is about do­ing the right things at the right time and that group of play­ers new to Twick­en­ham find­ing a way to treat the ex­pe­ri­ence like they would any other test.

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