x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Steve Hansen wants New Zealand to keep on pushing

All Blacks coach pleased with progress ahead of game with England at Twickenham.

Steve Hansen has been pleased with the development of his New Zealand side.
Steve Hansen has been pleased with the development of his New Zealand side.

LONDON // The recent rain in the UAE only highlights that you should never take anything for granted, and England will try to overturn the status quo tonight at Twickenham by downing New Zealand.

The All Blacks are unbeaten in ten years of touring the northern hemisphere in the autumn Test window.

Their slip-up to France in the quarter-final of the 2007 World Cup aside, Steve Hansen's squad have drawn strength this month from their flawless record in Europe over the past decade. The mantle of world champions, the fact that they are ranked by the International Rugby Board as the number one side and are on a streak of nine wins against England clearly helps.

England were the last team to defeat the All Blacks during the dark recesses of November, when Sir Clive Woodward's vintage outscored their visitors 31-28.

If Andrew Hore, the New Zealand hooker, had not been suspended this week for his swing on Bradley Davies in Cardiff, he would have been the only player on the pitch who started in that match.

Keven Mealamu was substitute for Hore that day, and it is a measure of the continuity of this All Blacks side that Tony Woodcock, Mealamu's front-row partner tonight, made his debut on that tour. Richie McCaw, for so long the All Blacks' totemic captain, made his debut the year before but did not tour that season.

In contrast, the England team were all of school age when that match was played, bar Geoff Parling, the 29-year-old lock who will partner Joe Launchbury, England's most inexperienced player with three caps, in the engine room.

While all the focus has been trained on how New Zealand are just three fixtures short of the unbeaten streak set by the All Blacks side between 1987 and 1990, a 29-game unbeaten run in November Tests was among the targets the squad laid down after their World Cup victory in Auckland.

"We have set some lofty goals, and the young guys have pushed the older guys," Hansen said.

"We have brought in nine to ten young guys that have bought energy and enthusiasm, which has excited the senior players. We have a very good development programme."

New Zealand's approach of bringing through players is markedly different to the wholesale changes implemented by Stuart Lancaster. The England coach's hands were partly tied as he was required to make a statement after the World Cup debacle under Martin Johnson's regime but a rot has set in that culminated in the 16-15 defeat to South Africa last week.

Hansen believes that England hung on to numerous players for too long in anticipation of the World Cup, but the most serious test of the All Black's succession planning takes place following tonight's clash.

McCaw is due to step away from the game for a sabbatical after 116 Tests, 79 of which were with his hands on the tiller of the team. His final match for at least six months will be up against fellow open-side flanker and skipper, Chris Robshaw, at a ground where he has never lost.

McCaw is sympathetic to Robshaw's situation last week, when the Harlequins player elected to go for the posts, rather than have Owen Farrell, the England fly half, kick for the corner when the team were behind.

The 31-year-old's sympathy was set to a background of the captain's final run yesterday, but in the intimidating arena of Twickenham McCaw is likely to be as ferocious a competitor as ever.

"The best way to learn as a captain is to go through those experiences," the Crusaders flanker said.

"The key to leading is being able to make the right decisions when it counts."

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