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Jason Leonard doffs cap to Dan Cole but sends blunt message to England

By Chris Jones
Dan Cole of England during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in London, England. (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Rugby legend Jason Leonard has paid tribute to Dan Cole, who equals his remarkable record of 114 England caps for a forward in men’s internationals and is backing the Leicester Tigers prop to help defeat the All Blacks in the first Test in Dunedin.

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Cole will come off the replacements bench to match the record and the fact that both men have reached that number of caps while operating in what Leonard describes as the “brutal” world of front row confrontation speaks volumes for their mental and physical strength.

For Cole, joining fellow British & Irish Lions star Leonard on 114 caps is particularly pleasing given the flak he took after having to replace the concussed Kyle Sinckler two minutes into the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, which saw the Springboks’ scrum power play a key role in the 32-12 victory thanks to the impact of the famous Bomb Squad, which gave the South Africans a fresh front row at a key stage of the contest.

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It will be Cole’s role to deliver that kind of game winning impact as a replacement against an All Blacks scrum that is missing the second row power of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock – the greatest lock combination New Zealand has ever produced – and also appears short of experience in the front row.

Leonard, who also played in five Lions Tests, believes hitting the All Blacks hard in the first Test is the key to grabbing a lead in the series with England making their first appearance on New Zealand soil for ten years.

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England did beat the All Blacks 19-7 in the 2019 World Cup semi-final and earned a 25-25 draw at Twickenham in 2022 and Leonard said: “I will be tuning in on Saturday morning to see England really take it to this All Blacks team. New Zealand are a team in transition with new coaches and players and this is the best time to be playing them.

“England cannot get away from the fact they are taking on the best in their own back yard, but, with some of the senior All Blacks retiring and new guys coming in – who haven’t really cut their teeth on the international stage – you have to take it them in first Test.

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“Dan and the rest of the England players will be all guns out to beat New Zealand in New Zealand. I am sure Dan will say the most important thing on Saturday is getting a win over the All Blacks and he won’t be thinking about equalling my record.

“Anyone who plays 100 times for their country is exceptional in all regards- needing talent, work ethic, have some luck with injuries and get on with a number of coaches! Dan equalling my record is fantastic because he is a credit to the game, a great club man at Leicester and it is always nice to see someone creating this kind of moment.

“The All Blacks very rarely play back to back games poorly and so you have to win that first Test because a week later they will be a much better side. With the international scheduling you don’t get the opportunity to play the All Blacks on their own pitch very often and that makes it a real test for England. You never play against a poor All Blacks side and you can’t make mistakes and give the ball back to them.”

Cole and fellow England prop Joe Marler have developed a “Bromance” that has seen them become the faces of the online content showing the behind the scenes life of the squad. They are different personalities as Leonard explained: “Joe and Dan both have a wicked sense of humour. Dan is drier in his humour and they have been a great double act for England and both compliment each other.

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“We are all front rowers and I am sure that if you gave us our time again we would opt to be fly-halves! In the front row you are in a unique position of being 100 per cent in contact with your opposite number – literally nose to nose with them.

“It is a unique kind of person who wants to endure and go through that and it is absolutely brutal on the body in many regards. All players suffer being dropped or having a bad game at some point of their careers and to come back is a huge achievement and Dan has the support of his teammates. He will be seen as the elder statesman in the changing room and the kind of guy you want alongside you because he has been there and done it.

“There is so much sport at the moment with the Euros, Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix and this is a fantastic opportunity to remind everyone that international rugby is going on with all the Home Nations playing.”

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