England must get into the All Blacks’
Mind games and true grit could prove key for Jones’ men if they are to beat the world’s best
England have to confront New Zealand before the first whistle tomorrow by responding to the haka. Be it walking towards the All Blacks, or ignoring it, however they want to. Unless you respond to it, I have always felt that the haka is a massive advantage for New Zealand.
Fronting up to the haka is not a sign of disrespect; it is about meeting the challenge. And if New Zealand are offended, so what? Today, it almost seems illegal to cause offence, but you want to offend the All Blacks. Not to be disrespectful, because that is something completely different and unacceptable in sport. But you do want to offend them slightly in case it puts them off their game.
It can be the same in defence with a big collision. When you do not expect something like that, it can lead to you taking a backwards step. I enjoyed the way the Welsh handled it in 2008, walking up towards the haka in a line. It was not disrespectful: it was saying that they were up for the fight.
As an England team, let us go out there to cause offence in the way that we play. Come out and defend with a blitz pattern, which is the only time New Zealand fail to look as good as we all think they are. Come out with the attitude that this will be the best performance you can put in wearing the white shirt.
As I left Twickenham last week, a South African supporter told me that England had not deserved to win, and that he could not wait for next week when New Zealand would hammer us. It took me back to 1997. We played New Zealand twice, losing the first game at Old Trafford, and every non-english person told us how they could not wait for the following week when the All Blacks would thrash us at Twickenham.
Last week felt the same. There was some banter on Twitter, first from the South Africans and then the Welsh and the Irish and Scots, who, not unsurprisingly, all thought the Owen Farrell tackle was a penalty. It showed how much disdain there was and how England’s Richard Cockerill (top) got in the All Blacks’ faces during the in 1997; Ireland closed in on them in 1989; and (bottom) Australia’s David Campese practised his kicking in 1991 many people want England to lose. So, it is time for this group to actually stand up and say: “You might hate us, but we are going to shove it right up you.”
Normally you go into a Test thinking about how you can win tactically, but not this weekend. In 1997, those first 15 minutes, we just blitzed the All Blacks like a wave of psychopaths. That is what I want to see from this England side: that old grit, that old passion.
When we drew the second game with the All Blacks 26-26 back in 1997, I have never been at a game at Twickenham where the crowd have been so involved. They were singing at half-time, glued to their seats – that collective spirit can carry a side a long way in what will be a ferocious encounter.
Speaking of ferocious, watching the Farrell tackle on the screen last weekend, I thought it was a borderline call. Having since seen a number of still images, it was a penalty. You very rarely get a tackle made at that angle, and Farrell steps forward with such ferocity he cannot possibly wrap his left arm around. Only Mr Tickle could have done that to Andre Esterhuizen, because of the angle of impact. Watching it at full speed, Farrell almost tries to wrap his arms after the tackle. However, going by recent incidents, including the Danny Cipriani sending-off against Munster, the earlier dangerous tackle on George Kruis should have been a red card.
One final point regarding England’s selection: I like Chris Ashton as a player but the question I have always had about him has concerned his defence. Is he a good defender? Is he committed enough? You will certainly find out tomorrow opposite Rieko Ioane, who has 22 tries in 21 Tests.
Ashton definitely has the pace to keep up with Ioane, but I hope he gets involved and sticks his head in, because if it works out for Ashton he could be a superstar for England. Electric. And another playmaker. Brings a different dynamic to the game. Whether you play him or Smith at full-back you are not losing much either way. They are both awesome.
What is left to say about The Oracle? You can probably count on one hand the number of mistakes he has made in the last two to three years. Mr Consistent. And an all-round top bloke as well.
Jack’s selection at 13 shows the strength in depth of this team when you consider who has been left out. Big guy, although not as big as his twin brother Josh, who is a lock for the Blues!
Everybody knows the story of Sonny
Bill (left). He is the ultimate professional. I grew up watching him play so to play alongside him was pretty special.
What is there not to like about this guy? Rieks can score tries, make line breaks. One of the big characters in the team. When he and TJ Perenara get together you cannot get a word in.
A freak of nature. I know he is always looking for improvement. If there is a one per cent gain to be made Beauden (right) will be working on it.
Huge experience and rarely if ever has a poor game. Being kept on his toes by TJ Perenara who is another big character in this squad and a big competitor.