Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Test against England 'must win' for the ABs

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The All Blacks were dealt a 38-21 defeat to England last time they played at Twickenham. Photo / Getty Images
The All Blacks were dealt a 38-21 defeat to England last time they played at Twickenham. Photo / Getty Images

Aaron Cruden's crosskick to instigate a try, Israel Dagg's timing from fullback, Ma'a Nonu's scattering charges - all wonderful parts of the All Blacks' attacking collection.

Those skills have become familiar to observers as the team continues to attack and search for space. Rugby's basics remain the same although grounds have improved as markedly as players' fitness, skills and philosophy.

We thrill to the sort of rugby the All Blacks and Springboks produced at Ellis Park as they attacked throughout the set-piece, breakdowns and open field confrontations.

Those who wondered about the tight five and their ability to withstand repeated bouts of ferocity got an answer in Johannesburg as the All Blacks absorbed the Bok pressure and then slammed the door on their hosts' fingers.

For all the marketing and development ideas about the upcoming tour to Japan and Europe, the main event will be the test against England on November 16.

Defeat against France or a historic loss to Ireland as Brian O'Driscoll suits up for his last tilt against the tourists would be painful, but nothing like such a result at Twickenham. All eyes will be on the old cabbage patch where the All Blacks rotted last year.

England have announced Chris Robshaw as their captain for the November test programme, which starts against the Wallabies then the Pumas before the All Blacks arrive for their November 16 shootout.

The flanker led England last year when they crunched the All Blacks 38-21. The damage began up front and the ripple effect became more disturbing as the test wound down.

If all goes well with injuries and results, 14 who started that test - with Ben Smith for the unavailable Conrad Smith at centre - could be summonsed once more.

Dagg, Jane, Savea, Nonu, Carter, Smith, Read, McCaw, Messam, Whitelock, Retallick, Franks, Mealamu and Woodcock have carried distressing personal memories for a year.

Forwards like Liam Messam, Owen Franks and Keven Mealamu will be challenged by Steven Luatua, Charlie Faumuina and Andrew Hore for a place at Twickers but the backline looks unlikely to change.

The debate will be at centre and judgment about Ben Smith's progress.

He had a test against Scotland last season and another on his home ground last week against the Wallabies, where he showed some positional uncertainty on defence as Tevita Kuridrani and Israel Folau aimed their forays towards his channel. Smith will be given as much work on tour as the staff can offer while the use and identity of his understudy will be intriguing.

Initial scrutiny at Twickenham will come on the pack. They know they have enough quality to compete strongly and that will be reinforced by Steve Hansen and Co with his reminders about Ellis Park.

This will also be a test of defensive patterns spelled out by Brian McLean and the side's discipline with England's winning margin last year magnified with six penalties.

As poorly as the All Blacks played, they scored as many tries as England and that will be one of the warnings for the hosts in three weeks.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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