Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Tight test ups England ante

The sweat had hardly dried on skipper Richie McCaw's brow after this toughest of test victories over France at the Stade de France when coach Steve Hansen was asked about the challenge of England next Sunday.

His reply was both unequivocal and pointed; the All Blacks are relishing their chance to avenge last year's loss and some of the comments out of the England camp recently will only up the ante further.

"There is a real edge going into Twickenham," Hansen said.

"They're going well, we're going okay. Both teams are looking forward to playing. I hear already they're talking about scoring four tries and going to No2 in the world, so they've obviously got a lot of confidence."

England's confidence will be boosted slightly by the All Blacks' 26-19 victory over France. It was a frustrating display by Hansen's men, who had issues with their defence and scrummaging all night. Neither was helped by the poor state of the pitch, something which also bore the brunt of Hansen's ire, but it was the same for both teams so it can hardly be an excuse.

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Stuart Lancaster's men were also a mixed bag in their 31-12 victory over Argentina at Twickenham. It's hard to see them scoring four tries against Hansen's men in order to overtake the Springboks on the International Rugby Board world rankings, but the collision between the two heavyweights is one to be relished and the All Blacks must be better after this run-out in front of a crowd of more than 80,000.

Charles Piutau provided the inspiration for the win with a try and an assist for Kieran Read, but France's late fightback through a try to fullback Brice Dulin, and the series of scrums on the All Blacks' line in the dying minutes, meant losing their winning streak this year was a real possibility.

"They had to show some real resilience, composure, patience and at times deal with their frustrations and I thought they did that really well," Hansen said. "The French turned up to play and did that really well and tonight's the night when you understand why they call it a test match, because it's a test of your resolve and mental strength, your skill sets right across the board. We had to take the win, we weren't given it, we had to fight hard for it and it's really pleasing to see they did that."

There will be several difficult selection decisions for Hansen this week. Dan Carter kicked for goal superbly - slotting five from five attempts - but he appears to be slightly off the pace in terms of match fitness. He was replaced by Aaron Cruden after 52 minutes, but must be odds-on to start against England. It would take a brave coach to drop him to the bench for his 100th test.

Julian Savea's availability makes the wing selections interesting. Piutau was outstanding and Cory Jane put in a freakishly good performance, considering he hasn't played a test all year. He had no right to be in a position to almost score that try in the corner in the opening minutes but almost pulled off the impossible.

For Hansen, the test was a hard slog never in the bag until the final whistle. He was relieved afterwards but, like his shot at the England camp, he couldn't resist having a crack at the state of the pitch as well.

"It's frustrating when you try to scrum and the ground rolls up like a carpet. It's hard enough at the moment trying to scrum without having a surface to scrum on. This is a magnificent stadium, probably one of the great stadiums of world rugby, yet the ground let it down today."

All Blacks (Charles Piutau, Kieran Read tries; Dan Carter 4 pens, con, Aaron Cruden con)

France (Brice Dulin try; Morgan Parra 4 pens, con) Halftime: 9-9

- APNZ

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