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By WYNNE GRAY
Let's be honest. There is an unwritten New Zealand rugby commandment every player understands.
It goes something like this. From time to time the All Blacks will be beaten, but the most unpalatable is a loss to England.
Explain the rationale, if that is the right word, behind that animosity and you will have written a substantial book. But the feeling exists.
It is a sentiment deposed five-eighths Andrew Mehrtens unveiled late last year when he spoke about the distaste of losing to England. Subsequently he suffered that fate when the rookie All Blacks went down 31-28 at Twickenham.
Let's be honest again. It is about time the All Blacks hosted England, a quality England side, not the pseudo group who toured in 1998. The previous England side visited in 1985, underlining ridiculous scheduling from the International Rugby Board.
Let's be honest one more time. We are looking forward to the June 14 test with England in Wellington.
The eager wait has nothing to do with wanting to pile misery on England, a side the All Blacks have dominated in results since the first of their 24 meetings in 1905. England have managed just five wins and a draw and on the seven times they have met in New Zealand, England have a solitary 16-10 victory in 1973.
That record has underpinned New Zealand's emotional stance against the Mother Country.
As England centre Will Greenwood put it: "The locals, particularly in New Zealand, will have us down as chokers, bottlers and talentless Poms. That's the reception I am expecting on the street. I am sure they also feel that, while we can win at Twickenham, now is the time to come and do that on their patch. And that's what we want to do."
Excitement about the Cake Tin test has an awful lot to do with tackling a different, quality foe.
The annual Tri-Nations contests have numbed us and as a nation we have been dissatisfied by a supporting cast of inferior opponents.
The England test has everything to do with judging where the All Blacks stand against a top-drawer opponent. It will be an opening barometer to show how good the All Blacks need to be in World Cup year.
At full strength, England are a serious threat to any side. They are disciplined, skilful, powerful. They are the Grand Slam champions. They have a massively destructive pack and a matchwinning, goalkicking five-eighths, Jonny Wilkinson.
Favourites for the World Cup? Why not? Certainly co-favourites.
Anyone asking how good the All Blacks have to be should get some answers from this test, where England's best play a group John Mitchell is grooming for the World Cup, a team handpicked after three months of furious Super 12 competition.
Can the All Black pack hold enough against the visitors to give their backs space to breathe, or will England suffocate and strangle the team in black?
New Zealand has been excited about the direction and boldness from the selectors. Is that trend going to translate into results in the international arena?
Will it happen in winter in New Zealand or will the dividend have to wait until the warmer climes of Australia in October and November?
We don't know and would like to find out. What better way to start than against formidable opponents?
There is also something about England in a World Cup year.
In the initial World Cup in 1987, the All Blacks expected to play England in a semifinal but that confrontation evaporated when Wales beat their neighbours in a quarter-final.
In the following tournament the All Blacks beat England 18-12 in a massive match to open their pool, with the theory that the winners would have a better route to the final. In the wash-up, England made that final while the All Blacks melted in the semifinal.
Jonah Lomu made the 1995 semifinal memorable when he steamrolled England with four tries as the All Blacks won 45-29.
Once more, New Zealand and England were drawn in the same section of the 1999 tournament. The All Blacks prevailed 30-16, Lomu again was a menace, but neither team went any further than the final four.
One prominent theory has the All Blacks meeting England in the World Cup final in Sydney on November 22. Anything is possible, so a June 14 preview is all the more fascinating.