Kieran Read. Photo by Getty
Although the All Blacks carry a heavyweight reputation
around the rugby globe, they find some results hard to achieve.
They won the last World Cup and have been at or near the top
of global rankings for some years without marching through a
It's been 15 years since they achieved that feat.
No other team has achieved it in the professional era, but
the All Blacks can match their illustrious predecessors if
they defeat England at Twickenham on Sunday.
The All Blacks had danced through 1997 and their end-of-year
tour when they walloped Ireland, England 25-8 at Old
Trafford, and Wales, before they came up against England once
more at Twickenham.
They made just a few changes for the second meeting with
Walter Little and Mark Allen in for Alama Ieremia and Craig
Dowd in a side captained by Justin Marshall in Sean
Fitzpatrick's injured absence.
When referee Jim Fleming blew a halt, the scores were
deadlocked 26-all. The aftermath was nauseous and the All
Blacks felt it as they endured the questions and functions
before escaping home.
With just a solitary try, they had battled to find the
necessary sting to put away England.
They were jaded and were at the end of a long season.
"We should not have drawn that day but I don't see this side
making the same mental errors," Fitzpatrick said.
"They are professionals and the calibre they have in the
squad is outstanding.
"They will have taken away a lot of learnings from Brisbane
in preparing for this test. They will [have] talked about
what went wrong and how they need to put in the right
preparation to get results."
If the All Blacks need a reminder of that misery and how to
avoid a repeat, they do not have to look far. Marshall is in
their hotel, and tour skipper Fitzpatrick is meant to zip in
and have a word this week.
Outstanding No 8 Kieran Read is ready for the final push. His
frame is creaking, but he wants to slog it out with the might
of England's pack.
"You just have to get up and be motivated for it," he said.
Finding the right mental edge would not be an issue. The week
would be about getting bodies sorted for the 14th and final
international of the year.
As with 1997, there has been one blemish so far with a draw
with the Wallabies in Brisbane.
But for a debut year under the command of new coach Steve
Hansen and his crew, the All Blacks have delivered a powerful
They have lifted their level, and with it, harnessed the
talents of new players and further embraced a collective
venom. The All Blacks are on an unbeaten 20-test streak which
began with their opening World Cup win against Tonga.
"It is a challenge to keep going," Read admitted.
That showed against Wales when they had nailed the result
after 50 minutes and then lost their fiery glow.
"It's all about upstairs," the No 8 said pointing at his
head, "and making sure you stay on edge as much as you were
at the start of a game."
- Wynne Gray in London