Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 18 News List

Cup hangovers cloud All Blacks, England fortunes


While All Blacks coach Graham Henry was talking up a "quality" England side, England caretaker coach Rob Andrew was claiming "massive underdog" status for today's rugby Test.

But Andrew said that despite their differences to what shapes as an intensely physical clash, it was clear both sides were struggling through World Cup hangovers as they searched for a platform to launch a new era.

“We can’t get over the hangover of winning it [in 2003], and it appears New Zealand can’t get over the hangover of losing it,” said Andrew, who is standing in for coach Martin Johnson, who has remained in England.

In their search for a cure, New Zealand and England have both embarked on a team rebuilding exercise with a long-term view towards the next World Cup in 2011, but they differ in their approach.

Rugby-obsessed New Zealand will accept nothing less than a win and Henry knows the 21-11 defeat of Ireland last week was just the beginning with an even more convincing display needed against England to placate their fans.

Andrew, however, is more focused on how his emerging players handle the rigors of an All Blacks Test.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for them and we will know a bit more about some of these guys when the final whistle goes,” he said yesterday. “Nobody expects England to win. There’s no external pressure, we’re in New Zealand. We’ve won here twice in 30 years. We’re massive underdogs despite the losses New Zealand have had in terms of personnel.”

It was an argument Henry did not accept as he spoke of the intensive research into the unknowns in the England side.

“I think the rugby world, and those who know the game, know it is going to be a hugely contestable game,” he said. “It’s going to be a major contest and we are looking forward to that.”

Henry admitted to long talks with former All Blacks prop Craig Dowd, who has just returned to New Zealand after several years in England, but kept the names of other informants under wraps.

“We have done some research,” he said, adding that loose forwards James Haskell and Tom Rees have been singled out as a strong complement to England’s traditional tight-five strength.

“Our homework says that there is a lot of quality in the side and a lot of young players who have got big futures,” he said. “With Martin Johnson managing the side, I think they will be looking home a wee bit and trying to impress him. They are trying to establish themselves as top internationals for a period time.”

While the All Blacks retain six players from the World Cup loss to France, England have retained only prop Andy Sheridan, and just four players are back from their last Six-Nations match against Ireland.

The England backline has a look of fragility — fielding third-choice flyhalf Charlie Hodgson and with only seven caps among the back three — which will put added pressure on their forwards to dominate up front.

To be competitive, England must mentally and physically win the forward battle, where Sheridan packs down against Greg Somerville.

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