Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Sting needed facing England

On the line is an undefeated season for the All Blacks, last achieved 15 years ago.

Although the All Blacks carry a heavyweight reputation around the rugby globe, they find some results hard to achieve.

They won the last World Cup and have been at or near the top of global rankings for some years without marching through a season unbeaten.

It's been 15 years since they achieved that feat. No other team has achieved it in the professional era, but the All Blacks can match their illustrious predecessors if they defeat England at Twickenham on Sunday.

The All Blacks had danced through 1997 and their end-of-year tour when they walloped Ireland, England 25-8 at Old Trafford, and Wales, before they came up against England once more at Twickenham.

They made just a few changes for the second meeting with Walter Little and Mark Allen in for Alama Ieremia and Craig Dowd in a side captained by Justin Marshall in Sean Fitzpatrick's injured absence.

When referee Jim Fleming blew a halt, the scores were deadlocked 26-all.

The aftermath was nauseous and the All Blacks felt it as they endured the questions and functions before escaping home.

With just a solitary try, they had battled to find the necessary sting to put away England.

They were jaded and were at the end of a long season.

"We should not have drawn that day but I don't see this side making the same mental errors," Fitzpatrick said. "They are professionals and the calibre they have in the squad is outstanding.

"They will have taken away a lot of learnings from Brisbane in preparing for this test. They will [have] talked about what went wrong and how they need to put in the right preparation to get results." If the All Blacks need a reminder of that misery and how to avoid a repeat, they do not have to look far. Marshall is in their hotel, and tour skipper Fitzpatrick is meant to zip in and have a word this week.

Outstanding No 8 Kieran Read is ready for the final push. His frame is creaking, but he wants to slog it out with the might of England's pack.

"You just have to get up and be motivated for it," he said.

Finding the right mental edge would not be an issue. The week would be about getting bodies sorted for the 14th and final international of the year.

As with 1997, there has been one blemish so far with a draw with the Wallabies in Brisbane.

But for a debut year under the command of new coach Steve Hansen and his crew, the All Blacks have delivered a powerful state-ment.

They have lifted their level, and with it, harnessed the talents of new players and further embraced a collective venom. The All Blacks are on an unbeaten 20-test streak which began with their opening World Cup win against Tonga.

"It is a challenge to keep going," Read admitted.

That showed against Wales when they had nailed the result after 50 minutes and then lost their fiery glow.

"It's all about upstairs," the No 8 said pointing at his head, "and making sure you stay on edge as much as you were at the start of a game."

- NZ Herald

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