I don’t suppose this post will make me terribly popular in some corners but I seriously think we need a dose of reality regarding the upcoming tour to New Zealand.
No one in their right minds heads off to the land of the long white cloud without being a little apprehensive about what awaits them. If you doubt that statement you haven’t read the books by guys like Willie John, Johnno and Sir Clive amongst others – blokes who know a lot more than me (about all sorts of things not just rugby I expect).
To get on a plane with 7 uncapped players (up to 8 yesterday) and without a whole bunch of first choice selections is up there with asking Eric Pickles to look after your pork pie whilst you go for a waz.
We all know how it happened, of course – someone at the RFU didn’t want it interfering with their holiday plans and the NZFU have taken full advantage by refusing to move the 1st test back by 7 days – more on this later.
In recent times England have been praised for having probably the best performances of all the 6 Nations against the All Blacks. After all, we ran them very close last year and the previous November we actually beat them. Now the facts – the last 5 games were all at Twickenham and we won just the once, that game apart we haven’t won since June 2003 on the tour immediately before the World Cup and with a team that was at its peak.
The All Blacks will delight in knocking us down in the year before they defend the World Cup and this is an ideal opportunity. The first test is at Eden Park – I’ve been there and it is an intimidating venue – it will be even more so with little travelling support and, at best, much of a second XV.
In 2003 we won 15 -13 with a team that boasted, amongst other world class players, Johnno, Jonny, Loll and Will. Some of the guys who have just landed in Auckland with the initial squad aren’t first choice for their Premiership clubs – all of the All Black squad are top players in the Super 15 and it is packed with seasoned internationals and World Cup winners.
Steve Hansen’s selection problems amount to choosing a hooker, whether or not to pick Malakai Fekitoa over the brilliant Conrad Smith alongside Ma’a Nonu and what sandwich filling to have at half-time. Anyone who has been watching the Super 15 will be aware of what damage Malakai can do! Even without Dan Carter he is boot deep in top class number 10s to choose from.
Stuart Lancaster has not moaned once about the situation he is faced with – full marks to him – he has talked about not looking for damage limitation and the opportunity to blood youngsters – let’s hope this doesn’t turn out to be literally.
History tells us that the best chance for a winning tour is to take the first game – the 1989 Lions apart – teams that lose this, tend to find themselves in deep trouble.
The England side that takes the field at Eden Park will not look especially weak or vulnerable – against many International sides you’d be feeling quietly confident – but this isn’t any side, this is the All Blacks in their own Black yard. I fear we are in for a hiding – one that will curse the tour even when the reinforcements arrive following the Premiership Final.
I pray I am wrong and will be delighted if I am proven to be so on Saturday week – let’s all hope that it turns out that I know less about rugby than the average idiot in Big Brother (you can confirm this at www.rugbyoldbloke.wordpress.com).
A final word on the intransigence of the NZRU refusing to delay a week – it was the RFU’s fault in accepting the tour dates, but NZ could have easily accepted a 7 day delay. They may well have shot themselves in the foot as they are trying hard to shift the June tours back a month in the future to suit their Super 18 season. If I’d been negotiating on their behalf I might have traded a week now for a month in the future.