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If the often outspoken English coach was not already aware how highly motivated the All Blacks are to dominate at Twickenham tomorrow, he certainly should be now after Steve Hansen raised the stakes significantly by suggesting this match is more important than last year’s British and Irish Lions tour.
"I think it’s even bigger than that, actually," Hansen said before the All Blacks’ main training session in London.
"The Lions tour has made it bigger because we weren’t successful in only drawing the series. That, to us, wasn’t successful. That’s made this week have a sharper edge to it, which is good."
Such comments offer a glimpse inside the mentality of the All Blacks this week. In front of 80,000 spectators, on one of world rugby’s biggest, grandest stages, they want to be ruthless. They want to make a statement.
No matter what they do, there is a feeling within the All Blacks the Lions result is continually rubbed in their face.
Defining instances, such as Sonny Bill Williams red card in the second test, and the highly controversial ending to the third at Eden Park, have seemingly faded from memory for some.
Many in the north prefer to only remember the final 1-1-1 result.
Often it is suggested, in fact, the Lions should have won the series. Never mind the All Blacks blew three tries in the opening 20 minutes of the decider.
"Sonny doesn’t have any demons and he’s got no devils running around in his head," Hansen said, shaking his head.
"Yes, he was disappointed, obviously. He did a shoulder charge which hit someone in the chops and got red carded and rightly so. You just want consistency in that, don’t you?"
It is fair to say, then, the All Blacks have a point to prove over the next two weeks as they meet England and Ireland, both of who feature many familiar faces from the Lions tour.
While results here cannot change the only major blemish of Hansen’s seven-year reign, they can alter perceptions, and also go a long way to reinforcing where the All Blacks sit in the overall pecking order.
This week the All Blacks’ management and players regularly touched on the differences in style between the southern and northern hemispheres, almost taunting England to deviate from its script.
If the All Blacks can win playing attractive, running rugby this weekend, while England stick to its maul, kick, defend approach, even better.
And although England’s leading Lions — Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Ben Te’o, Elliot Daly, Jamie George — may feel they have inside oil to draw on, the All Blacks do not appear worried.
- By Liam Napier
England v All Blacks
London, tomorrow, 4am
All Blacks: Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu’inukuafe. Reserves: Dane Coles, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty.
England: Elliot Daly, Chris Ashton, Henry Slade, Ben Te’o, Jonny May, Owen Farrell (co-captain), Ben Youngs, Mark Wilson, Sam Underhill, Brad Shields, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Dylan Hartley (co-captain), Ben Moon. Reserves: Jamie George, Alec Hepburn, Harry Williams, Charlie Ewels, Courtney Lawes, Danny Care, George Ford, Jack Nowell.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)