ENGLAND go into tomorrow’s first Test in New Zealand as the most improved team in world rugby of the last 18 months, according to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
The hosts are as short as 1-16 with some bookmakers Down Under for the clash with Stuart Lancaster’s Six Nations runners-up at Eden Park, but Hansen insists he expects a clash as hard-fought as his team’s narrow 30-22 victory at Twickenham in November.
“England are the most improved side in world rugby of the last 18 months,” he said, ahead of the first match of a three-Test series.
“There’s been a lot of talk that this is a poor England side, but there aren’t that many changes from the last time we played them and that was a great contest.
“Their environment seems to be one of ‘keep quiet, get on and do the work’, and that makes them dangerous. They’ve improved their skill sets and want to play rugby, which again makes them more dangerous.”
The world champions, who have recalled No8 Jerome Kaino to replace the concussed Kieran Read, are unbeaten in Auckland since 1994 and made history by winning all 14 Tests last year.
England are without half of their first-choice starting line-up due to injuries and the overlap of the club season’s finals with the departure for New Zealand.