Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 19 News List

All Blacks want England's crown

EXTRAVAGANZA Today sees the start of a string of rugby internationals, pitting the best that Europe can offer and the southern hemisphere against each other

AFP AND REUTERS , DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND AND BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA AND TUCUMAN, ARGENTINA

England have vowed to get in the All Blacks' faces today as the two heavyweights collide in a first Test battle for world rugby supremacy.

There has been no shortage of passion in the build-up to the match where a win for New Zealand will see them topple England from their number one ranking on the International Rugby Board ladder.

"This will be the yardstick that we are measured by," said New Zealand captain Tana Umaga, as a revamped All Blacks squad under new coach Graham Henry wrapped up their training yesterday.

The two rugby powers have opposite strengths. England favor their immense forward power and have concocted a plan they feel will nullify the explosive All Blacks backs which are "probably the most exciting and dangerous in world rugby," according to England assistant coach Phil Larder.

"The most important thing about playing these guys is to play in their faces, so we've got to get up there and get amongst them, it means we'll work very, very hard to slow the ball down," Larder said.

Head coach, Sir Clive Woodward rates the pack that will take to the field today as one of the most powerful he has assembled.

"We will have a forward pack that will probably be stronger than the World Cup forward pack," he said. "And that's not an idle boast. They could be."

The touchpaper for what promises to be a bone-jarring encounter has been lit by New Zealand's experienced scrum-half Justin Marshall, who branded England "arrogant" for their behavior after previous wins over the All Blacks.

"When they did manage to win against us, they were so arrogant with their parading round the ground, it hacked us off," Marshall.

"Now that they are top of the world, it makes it worse. I'd like not to say anything that gets them fired up, but there's no point lying about it. That's how it is. There is huge satisfaction in beating England."

England have arrived in New Zealand well-drilled from their home season, while Henry admits to being apprehensive about playing the world champions in his first match in charge.

"There's a few butterflies about playing the world champions without a build-up game and the respect I've got for them and that puts an extra edge on the game," he said.

"We thought we had [the team] sorted before the trial and finished up with one player playing in the pack [from the shadow All Blacks trial team] so the preparation going into the trial for the forward pack was a non-event really so we had to start again."

Not surprisingly, the All Blacks focus in training this week has been on forward drills, even to the extent of additional scrummaging practise at the end of the training session yesterday.

England "are the pinnacle of forward play throughout the world," said Umaga, a linchpin of the All Black backline.

"That's where the game starts, is won and lost really so we have to get on top of them there.

"As backs we have to complement everything they do and I don't think we'll get many chances but the chances we do get we have to finish.

The precise details of how the new model All Blacks under Henry will perform differently from former coach John Mitchell's beaten World Cup vintage -- apart from fielding a heavier forward pack -- are under wraps.

They are unlikely, however, to fall into the same trap as the World Cup side who failed to change tactics when things went awry during their semifinal against Australia.

This story has been viewed 3299 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top