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FEATURE Mick Cleary: 'The All Blacks in New Zealand give you nowt without sweat and toil.'

Mick Cleary: 'The All Blacks in New Zealand give you nowt without sweat and toil.'
1 week ago

England’s tour to Japan and New Zealand is in no way, shape or form a development trip. There should be no hint of taking a few bolters along for the ride, with a match against a much lower-ranked side as the opener providing the temptation. The fact that England are on the road for four weeks, with a fortnight between the game in Tokyo and the first test against the All Blacks in Dunedin might throw up a few thoughts in the minds of Steve Borthwick’s management that this unusual gap throws up the possibility of useful nurturing or finding-out time in training. Forget it. The tests in themselves are all that matter.

England sweated and fretted and mithered to pull themselves up by their boot-straps to regain respectability and credibility at the end of the Six Nations. You don’t throw that new-found self-esteem and assurance away lightly. England have had a pretty torrid few years since the high of the Rugby World Cup in Japan, scuffling along at best, their semi-final placing in France and pip-squeak loss to the Springboks notwithstanding. They are back in the conversation again and they need to play to that level in each and every match. There are points to be accumulated, tries to be scored, attacking patterns to be polished, defences to be reinforced, and win-loss ratios to be improved.

In a nutshell, England need to take their strongest squad on tour and they need to play their strongest line-up. Some of us still break out in a cold sweat with visions of the Tour from Hell in 1998 when Clive Woodward opted for rest and recuperation for his players and paid a dreadful price when England were handed their backsides right across the southern hemisphere.

Chris Robshaw
England lost the 2014 Series 3-0 in New Zealand and will have to go fully-loaded (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

We are a long way from that. But even so there will be a temptation to field a mix n’ match side against Japan who are nothing like the force they were in 2015 or 2019. There is an Eddie Jones factor in play, too, for better and for worse. The admirable thing about Borthwick is that external noise does not does not tend to penetrate. He’ll ignore the off-field pantomime and get on with the business in hand. And that means using the Tokyo test as a full-blown run-out before the delicious double-header against New Zealand.

That is what matters on this trip – having a crack at the All Blacks. There can be no better prospect of a rare win on away soil. There have only been two England victories on the road down there, John Pullin’s side with Fran Cotton, Andy Ripley et al pulling off a shock 16-10 win at Eden Park while Martin Johnson’s team 30 years later may have been more fancied but they still had to overcome a 13-man spell to record their 15-13 win. It would be easier to prise the Elgin Marbles from the Brits than squeeze a victory from the Kiwis on their own patch.

The All Blacks in New Zealand give you nowt without sweat and toil. And then, it’s only the very best playing at their very best that get across the line. That’s the historical context. That said, the first test in Dunedin on July 6 does offer England a glimmer. No more than a glimmer but an outside chance nonetheless. This England squad have already moved on from the Owen Farrell era, have learned a bit about who they are and what they are capable of. They will already have had a few weeks together on this trip, a full-scale (fingers crossed) outing against Japan and so be locked and loaded for anything that might await at the indoor arena that is the Forsyth Barr Stadium. And what might await them? Who knows, for this is the first test under the new management of former high-achieving Crusaders coach, Scott Roberston? Therein lies the sliver of a possibility.

All of which means that England travel strong.

There are no more than a few absentees on the injury front – Ellis Genge and Ollie Chessum – notable players for sure but it’s not the heaviest casualty list at the end of a long season. Elliot Daly is not available as his wife is pregnant. Of course, there is no Courtney Lawes but that, too, is the ongoing transitional reality of all teams.

The fact that such a warrior-figure is no longer in the ranks makes it all the more imperative that Tom Curry travels. Of course, he has to be fit for purpose and it is only right and proper that Alex Sanderson’s warning is heeded, the Sale director of rugby fearing that Curry might crash and burn next season if he is pushed straight back into the full fury of test rugby too soon. Those soundings have to be heeded.

But – and it’s a caveat to be defined by precise medical assessment – if Curry is good to go then he should be at the forefront of England’s thinking. The Sale flanker has worked his butt off in overcoming what was described as a ‘car crash’ hip injury. Of course, players sometimes need to be protected from themselves but due deference should also be paid to their own ambitions and wish-list of experiences. Even an athlete as disciplined and self-motivated as Curry needs a carrot dangling in front of him, a challenge to be met, a voice in his head and a date in his diary, to keep him pushing relentlessly forward.  Taking on the All Blacks in New Zealand is high on that tick-list.

George Furbank
England managed a last-gasp win over Ireland to boost their confidence after an underwhelming period (Photo Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Let’s aim for a 36-man squad given the length of the trip and the distance away in case of injury.

Back Three  – George Furbank and Freddie Steward as full-backs. Wings are quite open with Tommy Freeman and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso in the box seats. Ollie Sleightholme and Tom Roebuck get the nod for me with Will Muir on the reserve list.

Centres   England are a bit lightweight here (what’s new?)  Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade to start. The back-ups are Fraser Dingwall and Luke Northmore.

Fly-halves. Three to travel and an obvious cast list of George Ford, Marcus Smith and Fin Smith.

Scrum-halves.  A jostling pack of contenders with Alex Mitchell, Jack van Poortvliet and Ben Spencer making the cut. Harry Randall and Raffi Quirke are admirable non-travelling reserves.

Props. Joe Marler, Fin Baxter and Ben Obano (or Bevan Rodd) on the loose, Dan Cole, Will Stuart and Trevor Davison on the right, reward for a storming season if probably tough on Joe Heyes.

Locks. Not an area of strength in the absence of Chessum so Maro Itoje and George Martin in the boilerhouse with Alex Coles and Rusi Tuima providing back-up.

Back-row. Riches on offer even if Jack Willis is missing. Chandler Cunningham-Smith, Ethan Roots and the in-form Ted Hill alongside Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Ben Earl and Alex Dombrandt. Or should that last one be Alfie Barbeary? Two or three flip-flop selections throughout.



1 Comment
Jon 12 days ago

There have only ever been two test wins over the All Blacks in New Zealand?

Seems strange to have more back threes than flankers.

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