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England match adds to All Blacks' revenge mission in 2022

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

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Given the way that the 2021 international season ended, with the All Blacks going down to Ireland and France in successive weeks, Ian Foster’s men will be on a bit of a mission next year to remind the world that they’re the game’s top dogs.

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There’s always been a sense of inevitability when New Zealand have dropped from the number one spot on the World Rugby rankings that the All Blacks would quickly clamber their way back to the apex.

Both England and South Africa managed reasonable runs in pole position as world champions following the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, while the Springboks also took over as top dogs during the 2009 season.

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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.
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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.

Ahead of the most recent World Cup, the likes of Wales and Ireland spent fleeting moments on top of the rankings, but time and time again over the better part of the two decades, New Zealand have quickly reasserted themselves as the best of the best.

Until the Springboks won the 2019 tournament and then spent the following season on ice due to the global pandemic, however, the All Blacks had never spent more than nine months outside the number one spot.

Although NZ did fight themselves back to the top of the rankings following South Africa’s three consecutive losses during this year’s Rugby Championship, with NZ delivering the death-knell in the third match, the Springboks’ win the following weekend propelled them back to number one. They’ve held that position since and while past All Blacks sides have always clawed the title back relatively quickly, that sense of inevitability has waned over the past months, following the losses to Ireland and France.

Yes, it was a long season for the All Blacks, who played 15 matches, and yes, there’s a very good chance they’ll put on some stronger performances next season after a refresh, but that’s no longer the expectation that it once was. Even if New Zealand can get the better of South Africa, there’s still the likes of Ireland, France, England and even Scotland and Wales to contend with.

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A strong bounce back in 2022 against all and sundry, however, could quell any talks that there’s a rugby revolution going on in the Northern Hemisphere, however.

In part, that’s thanks to the fact that NZ have an impressive line-up of matches to contend with next season, including the just-announced fixture against England at Twickenham on 19 November.

England, of course, were the side that really sort of started the All Blacks on their downwards trajectory.

On the 2018 end-of-year tour, New Zealand escaped with the narrowest of wins over England, 16-15, but could have just as easily lost the match if the TMO hadn’t judged that flanker Courtney Lawes was offside when charging down a TJ Perenara kick, with Sam Underhill pouncing on the loose ball and racing away to score what could have been the decisive try in the 76th minute.

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A week later, the All Blacks fell to Ireland in Dublin and while they bounced back during the 2019 World Cup, smashing Ireland 46-14, they were then soundly beaten by the English in the semi.

They’ve not had the opportunity to exact any vengeance since but while England didn’t have the best of years this season, finishing 5th in the Six Nations, they appear to be on an upwards trajectory and managed an unbeaten Autumn Nations Series.

As such, the showdown in November next year will be one for the ages – but that won’t be the only mouth-watering encounter.

New Zealand’s schedule hasn’t yet been confirmed for next season’s end-of-year tour but a clash with either Ireland or France seems likely and given this year’s results, there’ll be plenty of feeling whatever fixture eventuates.

A match against Scotland also seems inevitable, given the two nations have not faced off since 2017. Scotland, like England, are a team on the rise and with just five points separating them and NZ in that most recent fixture, the game won’t be as easily predictable as some of the past encounters.

Before heading north, however, the All Blacks will travel to South Africa for the first time since 2019, and play two games there for the first time since 2009 – when the Springboks last manage to top the rankings prior to the most recent World Cup.

With this year’s two-game ‘series’ between NZ and SA ending in a draw, both sides will be thirsty for revenge and, ideally, a clean-sweep. The odds will be against the All Blacks, given the Springboks’ home advantage.

Then there’s the July series with Ireland – the thorn in the All Blacks’ side over the past half-decade.

While it may not be trumpeted by the coaches or the players, 2022 is looming a season of revenge for New Zealand. Gut-wrenching defeats have come at the hands of Ireland, England and South Africa in recent years and next season, Ian Foster and his charges have a massive opportunity on their hands to show the world that you write the All Blacks off at your own peril.

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