ENGLAND vs NEW ZEALAND
ENGLAND may be facing the toughest possible start to their autumn campaign but captain Lewis Moody insists he feels emboldened by the emergence of a clutch of youngsters he has earmarked for greatness.
Moody could not have asked for more daunting opposition than New Zealand, the world’s No1 ranked Test side, as he prepares to skipper England at Twickenham for the first time tomorrow.
But any trepidation the Bath flanker might secretly feel is tempered by his belief that England boast a core of youthful talent that has transformed the squad dynamic over the past year.
“When you play the best team in the world, you are always underdogs but I have a lot of confidence in this team and the guys within it,” said Moody. “It is a really good group of lads we have got at the minute with [Ben] Youngs, [Courtney] Lawes, [Dan] Cole, [Chris] Ashton, [Ben] Foden. They are playing some great rugby.
“The environment in the England camp has changed for the better in every way in the last 12 months. This team is going in the right direction and that has been boosted by some good performances in recent games.
“We are in as good a place as we have been in a long while. We got that win in Australia and it is important to keep improving. I think the potential of this team is huge, I really do. There is no reason this team can’t go on and be together for a long period of time and perform at levels we know it can.”
England have not beaten the All Blacks since 2003 and much has been made of their need to suppress their opponents’ attacking power. Moody admits keeping New Zealand at bay will be a priority but says he will not allow it to become an obsession.
“As a team you focus on your defence – if you stop the opposition scoring you know you will be in with a good chance of winning the game – but you also score points and try not to be constrained when you go out there,” he added.
New Zealand coach Graham Henry has made four changes to the side narrowly beaten by Australia last weekend, their first defeat in 16 Tests. League convert Sonny Bill Williams is set to make his debut at outside centre, while Alby Mathewson, Hosea Gear and Sam Whitelock are the other changes.
BRACKEN’S KEY CLASHES
FORMER England scrum-half Kyran Bracken explains that while half-backs are important, tomorrow’s clash will depend on scrum dominance, Lewis Moody’s bulldog qualities and Shontayne Hape’s performance at centre.
LEWIS MOODY v RICHIE MCCAW
Probably the biggest heart in the world against the planet’s finest player. The breakdown will be vital if England are to win and both flankers are so important at stopping the opposition. McCaw may be the more talented – his timing is impeccable – but Moody makes up for it with unsung work all over the pitch.
SHONTAYNE HAPE V MA’A NONU
Nonu is playing fantastic rugby and we all know what he can do. Hape is not as big but quite nimble and, being Maori, knows more about New Zealand than most. The adopted Englishman needs the biggest game of his life, must defend extremely aggressively and has to get over the advantage line.
ANDREW SHERIDAN v OWEN FRANKS
Sheridan has been missed. He’s extremely strong and aggressive, traits England need as whenever they’ve won important games it’s been through frustrating teams at the breakdown and scrum. It’s a battle of front rows more than props, but without him New Zealand had the edge – now we have a bit more power.
VERDICT: The odds may be against England but I fancy cleaning up so I’m backing them
Kyran is hosting a rugby business breakfast on 2nd December themed ‘Managing Change’ where he will be in conversation with England captain Lewis Moody; www.gameplansolutions.co.uk