2003-08-25 12:54:12 UTC
opinion on this...
IMHO England (just) have the edge on the ABs - IF they meet in Aus, I think
England will win, by a narrow margin..why ?
NZ have clearly the best back 3 in the game right now, and they are the AB's
key strength. They are also, however, the easiest players in an opposing
team to close down/shut out. The back 3 get their opportunities to shine
when either good early phase ball is won, or the opposition kick them
possession. England are too strong up front and too smart to let either of
these things happen often.
The England forwards are stronger, as mobile and more experienced than NZ's.
Their age is irrelevant - look how strongly the England pack finished in
Cardiff on Saturday - despite relatively high temperatures and humidity.
McCaw is the one NZ forward who is better than his opposite number - on the
blind side Hill should outplay Thorne, and Collins/Dallaglio are well
A lot rides on the line-out, because with a poorly-performing line-out,
either Wilkinson's or Spencer's options will be restricted. Neither England
nor NZ have shown themselves to be infallible here, but Thompson vs. Mealamu
may prove to be the key battle. Both are outstanding with ball in hand and
in the loose - but which one's throw-in will turn up on the day?
England are stronger around the fringes, and the back row (along with the
best tackling fly-half in the game) will deny Spencer the quality ball he
needs to excel, and to feed the pacy NZ backs. Dawson's only (slight)
weakness is the speed of his pass - but tactically and with ball in hand I
expect him to cause the ABs huge problems.
England's ball retention is better, and while the England backs do not have
the pace of NZ's, they are strong, fast (enough) runners who run strong
attacking lines. In multiphase play, they will find the openings, whilst
the English defensive organisation will close down most of the opportunities
Wilkinson is England's key player, and the Kiwis are correct that if
injured, England will struggle - but he is a better tackler and place-kicker
than Spencer, even if he does not quite have Spencer's running game.
Although he was poor by his standards against both NZ and Aus in June, he is
tactically stronger than Spencer and kicks better out of hand. He provides
better ball to his outside backs because of this - I'd rather play outside
him than Spencer, given some of the latter's "interesting" passing.
Finally leadership and organisation - other than the
aerodynamically-optimised jerseys, the England set-up is as well organised
and financed as any in the world...nothing will be left to chance. And in
Johnson, England have easily the best captain in world rugby - who also has
the benefit of being clearly in the team on playing merit as well. When the
pressure comes, this England team have the experience to ride it.
So - there it is...