George insists England are ready to face Black-lash
JAMIE George insists England are braced to face New Zealand at their most devastating after being served notice of what Saturday’s Twickenham showdown means to the world champions.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has billed the clash as bigger than last year’s series against the British and Irish Lions, which finished in a 1-1 stalemate after three gripping Tests.
“It makes us aware of where their heads are at for the game. The way they’ve spoken this week is exciting and we’re ready to rip into it,” Saracens hooker George said.
The rivals meet for the first time since 2014 with New Zealand overwhelming favourites to land a psychological blow ahead of the 2019 World Cup and England are eager to discover their place in the global hierarchy.
“We’ve been thinking about this game for a little while. When Eddie first came in he said we want to be the best team in the world and New Zealand are that at the moment,” George said.
“We want to measure ourselves against those guys and see how far away we are.”
Five of Eddie Jones’ starting XV have experienced victory over New Zealand, the most recent win coming on a Lions tour which produced a memorable triumph in Wellington in the second Test.
“That day is probably the best feeling of my rugby career so far and hopefully we can repeat that,” said George, who was the first choice hooker throughout the series.
“Half of us have beaten the All Blacks before and we’ve drawn on those experiences this week.
“We’ve spoken about what we need to do to beat them and what worked previously. That will be very valuable for us.
“We’ve focused on why we won those games.”
Joe Schmidt believes the next two matches will hand Ireland a clear World Cup 2019 yardstick.
Ireland host Argentina and backto-back world champions New Zealand in Dublin on successive Saturdays, with head coach Schmidt expecting a stern battle against both nations.
Argentina dumped Ireland out of the 2015 World Cup with a fine 43-20 victory in the quarter-finals, while the All Blacks have topped the world rankings since 2009.
Ireland could overhaul the All Blacks into world number one spot before the year is out, but only with victory in Dublin on November 17 and Schmidt knows his side could be facing a defining few days ahead.
Asked how telling the next 10 days could prove with next year’s World Cup in mind, Schmidt replied: “Yes, where we are right now, it will tell us a lot and I think regardless of what happens in the next 10 days, everything is a benchmark.
“In particular, this is our first southern hemisphere game of this series and you saw in Australia (in June), the way that southern hemisphere rugby is played is worth a fair bit of freedom.”
Stuart Hogg has been passed fit to return for Scotland against Fiji just eight weeks after ankle surgery.
The Glasgow full-back was expected to be sidelined for 10-12 weeks and miss the entire autumn Test series.
But he starts on Saturday, with Sean Maitland, Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw, who will captain the side, also back after missing the Wales game.
Centre Huw Jones is dropped, Pete Horne starting, while Exeter lock Sam Skinner is handed his debut.