Why test against England is extra special

When England meets the All Blacks it will be for the first time since 2014. Photo: Getty Images
When England meets the All Blacks it will be for the first time since 2014. Photo: Getty Images
When the All Blacks last played England - at Twickenham four years ago almost to the day - it was the fourth time that year the two nations had met on the rugby pitch.

Back in 2014, the England coach was Stuart Lancaster. Their current coach Eddie Jones was with Japan, preparing for the 2015 World Cup which included the Brave Blossoms' famous victory over the Springboks. Lancaster, by contrast, saw his nation crash out in pool play as hosts.

So it's been a long time between drinks as far as New Zealand and England are concerned, and that makes Sunday's test between the two at the famous old ground in southwest London more special.

The anticipation will be higher because this break between clashes has been the longest since the game went professional in 1996.

For most New Zealand rugby fans, a test against England at Twickenham stirs the passions like few others, but unfortunately familiarity has bred contempt. That's not to say the Rugby Football Union couldn't sell out an All Blacks test every year but sometimes less is more, and World Rugby should take note.

Do we really need a structured world championship-type tournament three out of every four years that World Rugby are reportedly considering? I would suggest not but maybe that's because I'm someone who harks back to traditional tours, including those from the British and Irish Lions which are now in peril.

Anyway, back to the big game and the hottest ticket in town, which the All Blacks will follow a week later with an equally big one against Ireland, the world's No 2-ranked team, in Dublin.

That it will be a clash of styles will be obvious to anyone who glanced the scoresheet after the England v South Africa test at Twickenham last weekend which the hosts won by scoring four penalties - three from Owen Farrell, who has escaped a citing for his no-arms tackle on Andre Esterhuizen and will presumably start again at No 10.

It will be a case of the irresistible force coming up against the immovable object, a big change in style for the All Blacks who over the past three months have played the more free-running Rugby Championship sides, plus Japan in Tokyo last weekend, who took that style to a new level, scoring 31 points against an inexperienced All Blacks line-up.

"It's not always scoring points that wins you games," England's New Zealand-born hooker and co-captain Dylan Hartley said after the 12-11 victory over the Boks, before adding: "Your defence can do it, too."

How the All Blacks plot their way past the men in white on Sunday (presumably with two playmakers in Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie, with Richie Mo'unga on in the second half) will be fascinating.

As will watching the hosts attempt to thwart the likes of McKenzie and Rieko Ioane, who has scored 22 tries in 21 tests.

And it will be fascinating because we haven't seen these teams share a pitch in four years - a long time in professional rugby terms. The wait is nearly over but that has been part of the fun.

Decade of dominance - New Zealand v England over the past 10 years:

Auckland, June 14, 2008: All Blacks 37-20
Christchurch, June 21, 2008: All Blacks 44-12
Twickenham, November 29, 2008: All Blacks 32-6
Twickenham, November 21, 2009: All Blacks 19-6
Twickenham, November 6, 2010: All Blacks 26-16
Twickenham, December 1, 2012: England 38-21
Twickenham, November 16, 2013: All Blacks 30-22
Auckland, June7, 2014: All Blacks 20-15
Dunedin, June 14, 2014: All Blacks 28-27
Hamilton, June 21, 2014: All Blacks 36-13
Twickenham, November 8, 2014: All Blacks 24-21

- Patrick McKendry

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