England's spot on selection and the All Black they'll target - Andy Goode
Selection is the number one job of an international head coach and Eddie Jones has got it spot on this week with a team that has the potential to get people off their seats.
England have been living off the memory of the last time they faced the All Blacks in the 2019 World Cup semi-final for quite some time now and this could be another day to get the juices flowing.
There shouldn’t be any issues with atmosphere today given the rarity of an All Blacks visit. This is the first time they’ve been to Twickenham since 2018 and the challenge for the players will be to harness that energy and impose their own game on New Zealand.
England may have a lighter pack with the selection of Sam Simmonds at blindside flanker but they have some of the best ball carriers in world rugby in there and need to get the ball in their hands as much as possible.
Jones normally likes to go with a tall number six but Simmonds and Billy Vunipola in tandem is something I and a lot of England fans have been wanting to see for a long time.
He is definitely one for a horses for courses selection so there’s every chance he wouldn’t go with Simmonds and Vunipola against South Africa, for example, but he’s clearly looked at that 2019 World Cup semi-final and feels it can work against the All Blacks.
In that game three years ago Vunipola and Tom Curry were joined by Sam Underhill in the back row and they were absolutely key to England’s game plan. Simmonds is a very different player to Underhill but I think there’s no doubt he has that game in mind.
Of course, England have to bring line speed, bar up defensively and dominate collisions but they also have to produce with the ball if they are to beat New Zealand for just the third time since 2003.
It’s interesting that New Zealand have gone back to Scott Barrett, who started in that World Cup semi-final, at blindside as opposed to Akira Ioane and the proof will be in the pudding but it feels like a conservative selection.
That suggests a concern about the set piece but I don’t think England will necessarily be weakened too much at scrum and lineout by Simmonds’ inclusion and it feels like such a positive selection given the explosivity he has around the park.
The Exeter man punches about 20kg above his weight every week in terms of power and metres after contact and England need to utilise him and their other explosive ball carriers to get them on the front foot and give them quick ball.
That is the recipe to beat the All Blacks and Jack van Poortvliet had to be included at scrum half to take advantage of that. It’s a massive game for him as he starts a Test for just the third time but nothing seems to phase him and he’ll just play his own game.
He’s up against the master in Aaron Smith so most neutral observers would give New Zealand the edge there but the match-ups all over the pitch are as even as they are mouthwatering.
The experience of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, who are starting together for a record 64th time and eclipsing Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, will be crucial for the All Blacks but I certainly think England have the better front row.
Both Caleb Clarke and Mark Telea are giving up a fair bit in terms of experience compared to Jack Nowell and Jonny May and, while Freddie Steward has been England’s best player for the past year or so, I do think they’ll try to target Beauden Barrett.
The All Black full back is one of the best players in the world and if England kick poorly to him, he’ll rip them to shreds but if they can turn him and put some high bombs up to put him under pressure, it could be a very different story.
We know that kicking duel will be a key factor in determining the outcome of the game but it’d be a mistake to place too much emphasis on it, as England have done in the past, with so many dangerous ball carriers at their disposal.
The players have to go out there and implement the game plan but there are no square pegs in round holes and the selection just looks spot on.
It’s such a rare occasion to face the All Blacks at Twickenham and, regardless of everything that happens around the Haka, I just hope Jones isn’t holding anything back for the 2023 World Cup in this one as England have the potential to notch up a famous victory.
The blueprint is there for all to see in terms of what happened in 2019 and if England harass and hound New Zealand, don’t let them settle or get the ball out of contact and impose themselves on the game, there’s joy to be had.
Scotland showed how to do it for 60 minutes last week and this England side has a lot more physicality and threat in it, so we just need to see that unleashed.
I don’t think the All Blacks are there for the taking but the selection is on the money and if England get the game plan right and execute, I honestly think this side can finally get the Twickenham faithful off their feet on the way to a 10-point victory.
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