Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

England can't hack pace, says Hansen

What now? England's front row after another defeat last week. Photo / Getty Images
What now? England's front row after another defeat last week. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks haven't been perfect in their first two tests, but they have won and the spoils of victory include the right to ask questions about England's likely state of mind leading into the final clash.

Video


This week, more than last, will provide bigger clues to England's longer-term future. How they play will provide some insight into their level of conviction about their own ability and also, more intriguingly, it will give some clues as to their assessment of the All Blacks' ability.

Video


Since their record victory at Twickenham in 2012, England have thrown everything at the All Blacks and lost. Three times they have tried to repeat the magic of that day two years ago and three times they haven't managed it. Self doubt must be becoming an issue.

Uncertainty could be England's undoing in Hamilton.

They tried to slow things down and grind out a win in Auckland with set-piece excellence and an accurate kick-chase game.

Didn't net them a win.

Video


They went to Dunedin and opened things right up. They were willing to go wide, attack the space and play at pace. Didn't net them a win.

So what to do in Hamilton? How wedded are they to this idea they can play high-tempo rugby against the best sides in the world?

"They are in a bit of a quandary really because they took us on in Dunedin at playing a game at real pace and worked out they couldn't," said All Black coach Steve Hansen.

"So what are they going to do now? I have heard Stu [England coach Lancaster] say in the paper that they shouldn't play too much rugby down their end. So are they going to kick it a wee bit more? They will have a good plan because they are good coaches."

Video


The selection of Kyle Eastmond and Manu Tuilagi in the midfield hints that England will persevere with the fast and furious stuff. Eastmond was a revelation at Eden Park where his tricky feet, elusive running and eye for space caused the vaunted All Black midfield problems.

He is the ball player to Tuilagi's ball runner and with Malakai Fekitoa making his first start, it would make sense if England fancy the youngster could be vulnerable.

Just as clearly the All Blacks will be happy enough for England to think that. Fekitoa has been one of Super Rugby's most destructive tacklers - his explosive power has seen him flatten some big men this year.

England can target him - they may end up regretting it, though. And that's why Hansen was happy to throw a little jab in England's direction: the All Blacks haven't yet fired the way they want to, but they have a level of comfort and confidence in their ability to play any style of rugby.

That's what Hansen has been building these past two years - a "Swiss Army knife" rugby side.

When they lost at Twickenham - still the only defeat under Hansen - the All Blacks didn't have the same breadth of tactical weaponry. That year they were still predominantly a single-threat side - their speed of running game too much for most teams to handle.

Last year was about variety - of creating a triple threat where the All Blacks could run, pass and kick.

This is why Hansen can goad England to run because he feels his side can play that style of rugby better. The arrival of Kieran Read at No 8, who is not expected to play 80 minutes, will give the All Blacks more running threat again. As well as Jerome Kaino has played at No 8, Read is a different beast with his ability to pop out wide and offload to his wings.

Hansen would be happy enough for England to kick because the All Blacks have a back three who can deal with the high ball and either kick or run back. If the game is slow, the tight five have shown they are as good at set-piece as any other pack in the world game.

"Our focus this week has been about trying to lift our performance to a level that we really can be proud of and that is about getting our skill-sets across the park right and having the energy to play the game at high speed and high intensity for 80-odd minutes," he said.

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 19 Sep 2014 12:34:11 Processing Time: 502ms