Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: All Blacks prosper in left wing campaign

From Jonah Lomu to Julian Savea, New Zealand’s lethal No 11s have had a field day against old foe England

All Blacks winger Julian Savea. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks winger Julian Savea. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The All Black No 11 shirt has been a terrifying sight for England in the past 20 years. Jonah Lomu started it in 1995, Joe Rokocoko carried it on and now Julian Savea is causing untold damage every time he plays against England.

Of all the attacking threats the All Blacks will pose in Hamilton tonight, it is the presence of Savea that concerns England the most. He is the man that has and can hurt them the most.

They haven't yet found an answer to combat his power, his pace, his direct lines, timing and his natural instincts. Not many international sides have, to be fair - Savea has scored 20 tries in 21 tests and is arguably the most potent weapon currently in the world game.

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Given that Savea scored a hat-trick on debut in 2012, there's a case to be made he's been a sure thing from the off. Not the way he is now, though.

In the past 12 months he's gained a sense of his own potential: found the confidence that comes with experience and played like someone who knows he's good enough to dominate.

The All Blacks are certainly a more imposing, better balanced side when Savea plays on the left wing. He offers something different entirely to the clever angles and sharp footwork of Cory Jane or Ben Smith.

Savea is the proverbial wrecking ball and there is most definitely a place for that in test football.

He also, as may become clear again tonight, worked superbly in tandem with Kieran Read last year. Those two were lethal in tight corners - Read freakishly able to get miracle passes away and Savea somehow able to tell it was going to happen and then finish the half chance.

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It would only be a minor representation of the All Black counter attacking strategy to say it's built on the basic premise that they are aiming to get the ball in Savea's hands as quickly as they can.

And for good reason.

"He's someone who has got a lot of power so he can really go at you and put a lot of pressure on you that way," says Smith. "But he's also got a lot of speed so he can put more pressure on you again by going around you. It's a good threat to have both of these things.

"We have seen over the last few years just how destructive he can be. We want to give him a bit of time and space to do his thing."

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England must be wondering from where the All Blacks keep plucking these incredible talents for their No 11 jersey. They must also wonder why All Blacks left wings of the past 20 years have the most amazing strike rates against England.

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There's something in this because the statistics are incredible: in the last 21 tests played between the All Blacks and England, 20 tries have been scored by the left wing of New Zealand. That's more than a quarter of the All Blacks 73 tries against England since 1995 coming from one position.

In seven tests against England, Lomu scored eight tries. Rokocoko wore the No11 jersey in four tests against England and scored four tries - interestingly, he played two tests against England on the right wing and didn't score in either. Hosea Gear nailed one from one and now Savea is sitting on five tries in three appearances against England.

In only seven of the last 21 tests has the All Black left wing not scored and to put that into perspective, England have scored 32 tries in total against the All Blacks since 1995.

What can we deduce from all this then? That England have, starting with Tony Underwood, fielded two generations of pigeons on their right wing?

That's only true to an extent.

There have been a few highly forgettables - men such as James Simpson-Daniel, Paul Sackey and David Rees, but there have also been a procession of British Lions such as Ben Cohen, Dan Luger and Mark Cueto.

Is it simply that the All Blacks enjoy playing England - that it brings out the best in them and inevitably, with most players happier passing right to left, the No11 is going to do well?

That doesn't quite feel a robust enough answer and maybe there isn't one to explain this phenomenon and maybe the why doesn't matter a jot as long as it keeps happening.

- NZ Herald

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