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Anne Photograp News 2024

All blacks are on the move and England can benefit from this
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All blacks are on the move and England can benefit from this

England’s Mako Vunipola and Jamie George after the draw against the All Blacks in 2022. Photo INPHO/James Crombie

OPINION

For the England rugby team, free hits do not exist. That’s not news to Steve Borthwick, the perfectionist head coach, who would never dream of letting his team take the field without a meticulous plan. Whether it works is another story.

In July, Borthwick takes England to New Zealand for two Tests against the All Blacks on his first tour as head coach, having first faced his predecessor, Eddie Jones, in Japan. England have never beaten New Zealand in a Test series. Borthwick led England to a 2-0 defeat on Kiwi soil in 2008. So even the idea of ​​describing this tour as a free hit would border on perverse.

Sir Clive Woodward almost lost his job on his first tour as England head coach after taking an inexperienced side to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in 1998. The aggregate score at the Tour of Hell was 328-88 against England and included a match against a team called the New Zealand Rugby Academy.

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Borthwick cannot afford a repeat of Woodward’s 1998 woes but there are reasons for optimism within the England ranks. A series win, with the second Test at Fort Eden Park, could be a tall order. But English rugby, at least on the field, is in rude health to perhaps claim one win in New Zealand on the upcoming tour.

Not since Martin Johnson’s triumphant showpiece run in 2003 – and only twice ever, with victory in 1973 – has an England side emerged victorious in New Zealand. Yet the changing landscape on both sides offers hope for Borthwick’s side.

England’s recent record says it all. They are unbeaten in their last two Tests against New Zealand, a win and a draw, which has only happened once before – a streak dating back to 2019. But even if England were to fall to a 2-0 defeat in the series , it wouldn’t be due to them being afraid of the All Blacks’ appearance.

England are a team on the rise. The impetuous way in which they turned their Six Nations around and took the game to both Ireland and France will be fresh in the minds of all supporters, as well as coaches and players. In the final stages of that tournament there was an energy and exuberance to the Borthwick side that had been less seen in the white jersey for years. Gems have been unearthed too: Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Fin Smith and Theo Dan have the potential for greatness and the likes of Ollie Chessum, George Martin and Ben Earl have achieved world class.

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It is also worth remembering that in 2014 a young England side led by Stuart Lancaster, with fourteen uncapped players, lost the first two Tests in New Zealand by an aggregate score of 48-42, before falling into the third succumbed 36-13. Marland Yarde ran over Richie McCaw to score. Borthwick’s selected cohort will likely be more experienced and harmonious than the 2014 crop and yet look how they scared one of the greatest sides this sport has ever seen.

There is also England’s exciting, if flawed, Champions Cup challenge to consider. With Northampton and Harlequins operating on budgets significantly lower than those of Leinster and Toulouse respectively, they pushed the European giants to their limits and played a brand of scintillating rugby that you wouldn’t normally associate with the English game at international level.

There is not nearly enough evidence to suggest that the All Blacks are a declining force, but they are certainly a side in significant transition. While England will have played six matches by the time the two sides meet at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on July 6, New Zealand will have played zero. Scott Robertson, the All Blacks’ dashing, smart new head coach, will be looking to bring his style and ethos to the team. However, like all great sides, major adjustments can take a while to develop (just ask Sir Clive, who despite the 1998 disaster managed to give blood to the likes of Jonny Wilkinson and Josh Lewsey on that tour).

Robertson is also concerned about the fitness and availability of players, with questions surrounding Scott Barrett, Sam Cane and Finlay Christie. Will Jordan, Tamaiti Williams and Cam Roigard have all already been ruled out of the entire series.

Of greater significance for New Zealand, the Crusaders, their biggest franchise and the site of Robertson’s seven consecutive Super Rugby championships from 2017 to 2023, are struggling. They have won just two of their ten Super Rugby matches since the start of the season. Granted, the Hurricanes and Blues are flying high, but the competition hasn’t exactly been fierce in a championship that has seriously declined in both rating and quality.

New Zealand may be on the move, but it will still take a monumental effort for England to topple their hosts this summer. But rather than fear the worst, the Borthwick squad will travel in the hope of ending two decades of pain against the world’s greatest rugby nation. Instead of a free goal and nothing to lose, England have everything to gain.

All Blacks Tests 2024

Saturday 6 July, 7.05pm – All Blacks v England, Forsyth Barr Stadium

Saturday 13 July, 7.05pm – All Blacks v England, Eden Park

Saturday 20 July, 2.30pm – All Blacks v Fiji, SnapDragon Stadium, San Diego

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Saturday 10 August, 7.05pm – All Blacks v Argentina (Rugby Championship), Sky Stadium, Wellington

Saturday 17 August, 7.05pm – All Blacks v Argentina (Rugby Championship), Eden Park

August 31, TBC – All Blacks v South Africa (Rugby Championship), Johannesburg

September 7, TBC – All Blacks v South Africa (Rugby Championship), Cape Town

September 21, TBC – All Blacks v Australia (Rugby Championship), Sydney

September 28, 7.05pm – All Blacks v Australia (Rugby Championship), Sky Stadium

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October 26, TBC – All Blacks v Japan, Yokohama

November 3, 4.10am – All Blacks v England, Twickenham

November 9, 9.10am – All Blacks v Ireland, Dublin

November 17, 9.10am – All Blacks v France, Paris

November 24, 9.10am – All Blacks v Italy, TBD