Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Smith still has score to settle

Conrad Smith's noggin has not taken its usual beating. He is weary and his body fatigued but you suspect, like his teammates, he is ready for one last push against England.

If there were scores to settle in Cardiff because of some remarks made around last year's World Cup, there are just as many this week at Twickenham.

The dangers are ubiquitous not least from an England side which has lost two tests on the bounce but has size and oomph about it which will click with a vengeance one afternoon at Twickers.

England are dwelling in a world of hurt and uncertainty but if conditions are similar to those they had against the Springboks they will fancy their bulldozing work against the All Blacks.

They last beat the visitors at Twickenham in 2002 when John Mitchell left 21 regulars at home to prepare for the World Cup. Ali Williams and Andrew Hore made their debut that day but should not be involved this weekend.

Before that you have to go back to 1993 to find a test when England triumphed at Twickenham against the All Blacks.

The numbers favour the All Blacks but England are always a physical examination.

Smith will look across at men like Manu Tuilagi whose frame suggests he should be playing with a smaller number on his white jersey. He is a smash and grab man with a touch of daring. He made one intercept save and bust out against the Boks but then, like England, ran out of ideas. You figure if the hulking Ma'a Nonu got a similar chance he would make more profit. But those are skills Nonu should have after 75 tests while Tuilagi is just starting his test career.

Smith has the computer brain for the game, he feels the pulse of a test.

After Cardiff his face had escaped the bruising, cuts and black eyes which have been his recent countenance. He's had a lengthy season but wants one more scalp.

Wales were well sorted but in every international there were lessons. The All Blacks had tried to kick the ball away because they were tired in the last quarter and had Cory Jane in the sinbin. On reflection it would have been easier to conserve energy by holding on to possession.

"I think we spent more energy chasing them," Smith said. "It is easy to be picky. It has been a long year and maybe we were thinking about the week ahead. We knew the game was in the bag and it was a matter of holding them out."

Smith follows the history of the game and will have spotted the sort of dangers which jumped up and bit the All Blacks in 1993. They had beaten Scotland convincingly the week before but then stumbled against a strong but beatable England when Rob Andrew out-duelled Jeff Wilson is an all-kick match.

The All Blacks were denied a lot of decent ball and could not find enough space from their ad-lib moments in a heavyweight clash against a tenacious England.

Ireland in the second test, the Wallabies in Brisbane and Italy in Rome all found some of that blueprint. The All Blacks will head into a very sour summer if they let that occur again this week.

- NZ Herald

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