Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Clash of styles likely at Twickenham

Strength and fitness exam looks like Lamborghini against Lada as McCaw's men reach end of long season against England

Twickenham is the finishing line as the All Blacks jostle around the last bend in their surge to the tape.

If their last international evolves into a strength and fitness exam without interference from referee George Clancy, the All Blacks will pull away from their rivals England.

This is the Lamborghini against the Lada, sleek and honed against reliable and grunty, the sort of contest which makes top sport so intriguing.

The clash of styles is part of the fascination as each side seeks to impose their strategic flow.

Often lustre does not suffocate steadfast so the All Blacks need to bring the focus which captain Richie McCaw will deliver in his last outing before his sabbatical, aided by his buddy Kieran Read.

A sapping 24-hour bug nailed Read but would be no excuse in the side's 14th and final test tomorrow.

The season's rating is all on the line at Twickenham. Playing on this side of the world in what has become a one-off match is all the motivation the All Blacks need.

Pressure is never a burden, it is an incentive.

"The season has to be completed and the All Blacks need to win this week otherwise there will be questions asked," Read said calmly.

During Graham Henry's time in charge, the All Blacks had a motto about better people making better All Blacks.

They might have skipped past that because of a couple of judicial dings this tour and brought in a "better skills deliver better test players" dictum.

Throw in a clause about whatever it takes, which is not a reference to any thuggery but more an ability to deal with the physical combat as well as any other foibles like weather, a referee or opposition brilliance.

There has to be a bit of Muhammad Ali about the All Blacks' methods.

They need to absorb some big hits, know how to take some punishment and ride with it as Ali did in his classic duels with Joe Frazier before using his counterattack venom; even the Rope a Dope concept used against George Foreman, although that is an unkind notion to be firing at an England side which can look a touch one-dimensional.

They bring danger because of their power and a growing belief, despite close losses to the Wallabies and Springboks, that they are on the right path towards finding a style to suit them and their players in the march to the 2015 World Cup.

And depending on next week's tournament draw, the All Blacks and England may be seeded in the same group.

About 81,000 will file in good voice into the Old Cabbage Patch tomorrow, an arena which has a perfect rugby surface if the predicted fine and cold weather stays.

Hopefully the diarrhoea and vomiting bug which swept the All Blacks has been well flushed away so there are no side effects or side issues to detract from the test.

Rugby men such as former All Blacks skipper Sean Fitzpatrick, who has watched England play a great deal, sees their ambition but feels they will be some points adrift of the visitors at fulltime.

He is enthused by the All Blacks' progress since their World Cup success as they have integrated a number of new players into the squad.

"This group is up there with other All Black sides who dominated their eras," he said.

Since England's World Cup triumph in 2003 when they began that march with a narrow 15-13 win against the All Blacks in foul weather in Wellington, the All Blacks have not lost another of those contests.

Nine times they have prospered, with a 23-19 margin in 2005 at Twickenham, the sides' closest tussle.

The All Blacks are purring and England are growling for this stoush in just the right sort of heavyweight chess contest to close the year.

- NZ Herald

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