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FEATURE Mick Cleary: 'Respect from the All Blacks? You have to chisel it from them'

Mick Cleary: 'Respect from the All Blacks? You have to chisel it from them'
1 week ago

Better to travel in hope? That philosophy might serve you well for a fluffy outing to the beach but not when you’re travelling to New Zealand to take on the All Blacks. The only thing worth packing for a trip into the deep depths of a southern hemisphere winter is a little shiver of fear, the sort of elemental frisson that ensures you are permanently on edge, permanently on your guard, locked and loaded for whatever will come your way – and, yes, it does help you know full well what is coming your way – all topped off with a burning desire to show those Kiwi buggers you deserve a modicum of respect.

That’s it. That’s where England need to be as they prepare for the first Test in Dunedin, in a state of heightened emotion, half anxiety, half excitement, about all at stake. Forget the mitigating nonsense being peddled that the All Blacks are under new management, they haven’t played in yonks and yonks, they are without Him and Him and Him (insert a great All Black as you see fit), this is the start of their international season and they are bound to be rusty.

Why, they have even tried to kill England with kindness on their arrival, noting what a jolly splendid job Steve Borthwick has done since taking over from Eddie Jones. This would be the same Borthwick who less than a year ago was in the same oh-for-God’s-sake territory as Gareth Southgate is now, in charge of an England team scuffling its way through a tournament, nicking results, winning games but not hearts and minds. The upturn in English fortunes, and the acclaim for Borthwick, is a recent thing and it is relative to how dull and unloved they had been. English sport across the board is in need of a pick-me-up.

Steve Borthwick
Steve Bortwick has slowly turned around the fortunes of the England squad but a win in New Zealand would be a huge marker (Photo Fiona Goodall – RFU/Getty Images)

There was a fascinating clip on The Times Ruck podcast this week with Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back recalling the mood prior to their Test in Wellington in 2003. We all know how it panned out with England holding strong to win 15-13 despite having bad boys Back and Dallaglio in the sin-bin at the same point in the second half. This was a well established England line-up. This was an England team that had been ranked number one in the world for at least a couple of years. These were the world champions-elect, Grand Slammers who had racked up double-digit successive wins against the southern hemisphere. Yet Dallaglio recalls going for coffee a couple of days before that Test and realising the locals had zero knowledge of just who they were. It was all about the All Blacks. Respect? You have to chisel it from them.

And that’s absolutely as it should be. England are probably in the worst possible position as they contemplate this two Test series (with a third fixture to come in succession at the start of the autumn programme at Twickenham). They are neither completely unknown but nor are they a proven force, a real Cunis as was once said of a New Zealand cricketer, neither one thing nor the other.

The last time England toured New Zealand the squad hardly raised a peep of recognition beyond their own borders. Stuart Lancaster’s selection was compromised by the late-running date of the Premiership final and the crass inability of administrators to find a solution to the clash.

The last time England toured New Zealand (in 2014) the squad hardly raised a peep of recognition beyond their own borders. Stuart Lancaster’s selection was compromised by the late-running date of the Premiership final and the crass inability of administrators to find a solution to the clash. And yet Lancaster’s line-up for that first Test in Auckland almost pulled off the impossible and beat an All Black team which had not lost at Eden Park in 20 years and was on a run of 14 successive victories. Joe Marler was on duty that day. England were unheralded and unfancied yet it took a 78th minute try from Conrad Smith to keep those runs and records intact. Freddie Burns was at fly-half, Kyle Eastmond at centre and England could summon only 299 caps to New Zealand’s 779.

Manu Tuilagi
England last ventured to New Zealand a decade ago, losing all three Tests (Photo David Rogers/Getty Images)

The second was at this Saturday’s venue, the Forsyth Barr Stadium. Again, England almost caught New Zealand on the hop. They led 10-6 at half-time and might have been further ahead but for a tremendous claw-back tackle from Ben Smith on Manu Tuilagi. Then came the All Blacks rattle, that all-too-familiar deluge of scores, a three-try blitz early in the second half, one of those periods of play when the entire team seems to be handled by a puppet-master, strings pulled so everyone is in  the right place at the right time, devilishly orchestrated, a symphony in black.

That was as good it got for England with the third Test a 36-13 pasting in Hamilton.

If that scoreline is repeated over the next ten days then the tour will have proven a rude awakening for England. No matter how you might try to box and cox it, the reality is England need to perform to the opening scorelines of a decade ago (a late Chris Ashton try at the Waikato Stadium helped them close at 28-27) for there to be any mitigation in defeat. Defeat is just about acceptable as long as it is close, mighty close, and not of Labour-Tory proportions.

The one thing for certain is the All Blacks will come for them, and come for them hard. That is a given in New Zealand.

The one thing for certain is the All Blacks will come for them, and come for them hard. That is a given in New Zealand. In every match I have ever either covered or even just watched on a casual afternoon over the last 30 or so years, the one aspect about New Zealanders playing rugby is just how intense the play is, be it Test level or schools or even junior club rugby. For all the garlands hung round Kiwi necks for the sharpness of their skills, their passing, their handling, their support lines, their cleverness in making decisions, none of this is as striking as the ferocity with which they compete for the ball. Every ball. The Springboks are renowned for it. The Kiwis ought to be too.

That is what is coming the way of a Ben Earl or Tommy Freeman or Immanuel Feyi-Waboso or Marcus Smith. That is why England should be wary of pleasantries in the build-up. That is why they should not take too much from their eight-try win in Tokyo. That was a useful run-out. Little more.

Marcus Smith
Marcus Smith will want to show he is the man to drive England towards the 2027 World Cup (Photo Alex Davidson/ Getty Images)

New Zealand have had a tricky few years, partly Covid-induced with all the attendant fall-out from that, the sense of reinforced isolation, the loss of regular contact with South African sides in particular. The All Blacks need to reinvigorate their public and reclaim their status.

England have had their transitional teething phase. That period is over. Now is the time for the forwards to pack a proper punch. And now is the time for Smith to show he is the man to lead the line into the next Rugby World Cup. No longer the young pup plucked from the Brighton College playing fields, no longer the poster boy, no longer in the shadows of Owen Farrell and George Ford, no longer the coming man.

England have been on a journey under Borthwick. Saturday would be a fine time to show that they have arrived someplace meaningful.

If there is one thing against which the success or otherwise of this trip to New Zealand might be measured against it is in the performance of Smith. We all know he needs a hit-job done by his forwards if he is to thrive, although it will also be interesting to see him scramble and react to adversity. But if Smith does flourish, does manage to play as a Johnny Sexton did here two years ago or Jonny Wilkinson 20 years before, imbue England’s play with direction and purpose and conviction, then the job will be done and the tour can be judged a success.

England have been on a journey under Borthwick. Saturday would be a fine time to show they have arrived someplace meaningful.


Johann 7 days ago

Just for my benefit could you stop writing POM, because I never know if it refers to an Englishman or a niggly, grumpy Irish flanker.

Jon 8 days ago

Top read Mick, I hope how the All Blacks can also remember (or come across this article) that identity and live by it!

Lets hope both sides have a mixture of it.

Dave 8 days ago

Either way I think it'll be close hoping for a cracker of a game, expecting a little bit of rust from the abs, just hope they settle pretty quickly.

Chris 8 days ago

I think there will be nerves on both sides, England is looking primed for a big performance. I reckon it’ll be close

Bret 8 days ago

Regarding the comment about the English players walking around New Zealand and expecting them to know who the English players were in 2003. Most Kiwis didn’t have the money, time or access to watch the English domestic game or Nations competition back then. That was a transitional period when rugby went from free-to-air to pay TV and replays were hard to find. You can’t expect everyone to watch every fixture and know every player by name when the games are on in the early hours of the morning and they have work/school/weekend sports to worry about.

I wouldn’t expect UK viewers and members of the general public to know every Super Rugby player or All Blacks squad player maybe outside of the three Barretts, Perenara, or Savea.

Johann 8 days ago

My Kiwi friends are non existent but I have watched them play Wales in Wales.

My take is you boys are about as knowledgeable as any nation about the game. It is your god. You also behave pretty well at the park. And you are one of few people to place national pride and performance above provinsial petty preferance.

But, there must be one right. I have never heard your fams lose a RWC and not lay the blame elsewhere. In 1995 it was food poisoning, and the ref, and 14 men.

Shelford had his nutsack rucked open and didn't winge and Meads gave his award to Du Preez at Twickenham when they called him the greatest. I once saw Gary Knight rinse the flour off his face after a flour bomb hit him from a plane up above. Nobody moaned.

Troy 8 days ago

As this article has already pointed out NZ and Sth Africa’s defining quality is the pressure they bring to bear every break down, every play. It's why I believe Sth Africa will beat Ireland on their hard grounds plus the altitude factor. My loyalty supports a NZ victory over England but ours is not so clear cut what with an untested regime, untried combinations and notorious All Black first test wobbles.
It's ironic though in that I don't think the so called “whingeing Poms” will be as half the misery guts as Ireland will be if they were both to lose. Ireland and it's supporters have taken it to a new level since their rise up the ladder.

Chesterfield 8 days ago

If you want respect in NZ you have to earn it with your performance, behaviour, and actions. Good luck to both teams.

MattJH 8 days ago

Respect isn’t the word, there is and always has been massive respect for England.
I think he means ‘fear’ or ‘trepidation’ or ‘worry’.
And no, he’ll never get those from the All Blacks, no matter how new or good or bad the coach is.
I am a bit surprised at how many people think England are going to play boring 10 man watching paint dry rugby.
They lit up the six nations with some great running footy.
And they’re under the roof in Dunedin, a settled, confident side with a warm up test under their belts against a new side that came together 10 days ago.
We’ll still stomp them like sick rats by 20+. The All Blacks will destroy them. But there’s respect there of course.

SadersMan 8 days ago

Well, it’s hard for the Home Unions to chisel anything from the ABs when you’ve only won 16 tests against them from a combined total tests played of 150. So why bother? Just get stuck in & smash us. You’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

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