Richie McCaw of the All Blacks runs through drills during a
training session at Latymers Upper School in London,
England. Photo by Getty
Twickenham is the finishing line as the All Blacks jostle
around the last bend in their surge to the tape.
If their last international evolves into a strength and
fitness exam without interference from referee George Clancy,
the All Blacks will pull away from their rivals England.
This is the Lamborghini against the Lada, sleek and honed
against reliable and grunty, the sort of contest which makes
top sport so intriguing. The clash of styles is part of the
fascination as each side seeks to impose their strategic
Often lustre does not suffocate steadfast so the All Blacks
need to bring the focus which captain Richie McCaw will
deliver in his last outing before his sabbatical, aided by
his buddy Kieran Read.
A sapping 24 hour bug nailed Read but would be no excuse in
the side's 14th and final test tomorrow.
The season's rating is all on the line at Twickenham. Playing
on this side of the world in what has become a one-off match
is all the motivation the All Blacks need. Pressure is never
a burden, it is an incentive.
"The season has to be completed and the All Blacks need to
win this week otherwise there will be questions asked," Read
During Graham Henry's time in charge, the All Blacks had a
motto about better people making better All Blacks.
They might have skipped past that because of a couple of
judicial dings this tour and brought in a "better skills
deliver better test players" dictum.
Throw in a clause about whatever it takes, which is not a
reference to any thuggery but more an ability to deal with
the physical combat as well as any other foibles like
weather, a referee or opposition brilliance.
There has to be a bit of Muhammad Ali about the All Blacks'
They need to absorb some big hits, know how to take some
punishment and ride with it as Ali did in his classic duels
with Joe Frazier before using his counterattack venom.
Even the Rope a Dope concept used against George Foreman,
although that is an unkind notion to be firing at an England
side which can look a touch one dimensional.
They bring danger because of their power and a growing
belief, despite close losses to the Wallabies and Springboks,
that they are on the right path towards finding a style to
suit them and their players in the march to the 2015 World
And depending on next week's tournament draw, the All Blacks
and England may be seeded in the same group.
About 81,000 will file in good voice into the Old Cabbage
Patch tomorrow, an arena which has a perfect rugby surface if
the predicted fine and cold weather stays.
Hopefully the diarrhoea and vomiting bug which swept the All
Blacks has been well flushed away so there are no side
effects or side issues to detract from the test.
Rugby men such as former All Blacks skipper Sean Fitzpatrick
who has watched England play a great deal, sees their
ambition but feel they will be some points adrift of the
visitors at fulltime.
He is enthused by the All Blacks progress since their World
Cup success as they have been integrated a number of new
players into the squad. "This group is up there with other
All Black sides who dominated their eras," he said.
Since England's World Cup triumph in 2003 when they began
that march with a narrow 15-13 win against the All Blacks in
foul weather in Wellington, the All Blacks have not lost
another of those contests.
Nine times the All Blacks have prospered with a 23-19 margin
in 2005 at Twickenham, the sides' closest tussle.
The All Blacks are purring and England are growling for this
stoush in just the right sort of heavyweight chess contest to
close the year.
- by Wynne Gray in London