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Steep climb for hosts

England face an almost insurmountable challenge in trying to prevent New Zealand making it a third Grand Slam tour of Europe by winning at Twickenham tomorrow.

LONDON // England face an almost insurmountable challenge in trying to prevent New Zealand making it a third Grand Slam tour of Europe by winning at Twickenham tomorrow. It is particularly fitting therefore, that the two teams contest the inaugural Hillary Shield, named after the man who conquered Everest, the world's highest mountain.

Martin Johnson, the England manager, watched in frustration last weekend as his side crashed to a record defeat at the hands of South Africa. Johnson is under no illusions about the scale of the task that stands before his men as they try to beat what is the world's No 1 ranked side. "This week has not been about self-pity," he said. "It's about focus against the best side in the world. We have picked the team that we think has the best chance of winning."

When Johnson led England to their last-gasp World Cup triumph five years ago, it was a win based on fitness. England ultimately won by thinking clearly under pressure due to the simple fact that they were fitter than other teams. There is a suggestion, however, that Johnson's squad now lack that core fitness that once made them world beaters. Last week England trailed 20-6 at half-time, but it was the 15 points that they conceded in the final 20 minutes that was the most staggering part of the 42-6 scoreline. It was the 10th time in 13 competitive matches at Twickenham England had been outscored in the final quarter.

No one expects England to win tomorrow's encounter. But let's hope that the match is not over before it has barley started. @Email:griddle@thenational.ae

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