Nick Evans has revealed a wariness about Twickenham in the All Blacks camp as Steve Hansen’s side gets set for a test against England with World Cup ramifications.
Few Kiwis know the English setup and mindset better than Evans, the former All Blacks No 10 who has been ensconced in Britain since the 2007 World Cup.
Evans predicts an All Blacks win in London this weekend though doesn’t expect it to come easy against an English outfit that will be buoyed by their gutsy victory over the Springboks.
“I expect Saturday’s match to be a lot closer than people may think,” Evans wrote in his column for The Guardian.
“I was talking to Joe Marler before the Springboks game and explaining just how wary the All Blacks are of playing at Twickenham.
“England have lost only once – to Ireland – there under Eddie and they are a different beast at home. Eddie is right to say the All Blacks will be completely different to the Springboks and try and hold on to the ball more, but Twickenham is a funny old ground and you have to play the territorial game.”
The All Blacks have had a history of struggles at England HQ and their last match there, way back in 2014, saw them squeak in 24-21.
Nehe Milner-Skudder is ruled out of the Māori All Blacks matches against Brazil and Chile following a shoulder injury he received in Saturday night’s All Blacks test match against Japan.
The All Blacks have played 21 tests against England at Twickenham, enjoying 15 wins with a draw and five losses. Six of the New Zealand victories have been by seven points or less – a converted try.
New Zealand have had another couple of notable losses at the famous London ground – a World Cup semifinal to France in 1999 and against the British Barbarians in 2009.
Evans has been impressed by the All Blacks tinkerings a year out from the World Cup where they will be looking for an unprecedented hat-trick of titles in Japan.
“New Zealand will not be short of confidence and when I’ve watched them recently, they’ve clearly been trying things and putting themselves under pressure,” he wrote.
“Sometimes they’ve been holding on to the ball religiously, not kicking at all to test their threshold with ball in hand.
“But the All Blacks will be coming to win. That’s all that matters because a win away to England would be hugely significant before the World Cup. This is the game that everyone has been talking about for the past four years.”
Evans expects much more from this match than the one-try effort that the England v South Africa test produced.
“If there is one thing England can be sure of against New Zealand it is that the All Blacks will be nowhere near as wasteful in the red zone as South Africa,” Evans wrote in The Guardian.
“Eddie Jones and his players will know that and while England must take huge credit for their guts and tenacity, this was a game they set out not to lose – and squeezed home by dodging a bullet right at the death.
“In terms of positives for England, they hung in there and showed their resilience. Those were the soundbites coming out of the dressing room afterwards but those are qualities that should not be underestimated. It was a match they should have lost but they will take heart from how they turned things round in the second half.”
Evans highlighted major changes in the English defensive system under newly appointed John Mitchell – essentially the players are changing from watching the ball to watching the man now – and said that would take time to bed in.
He insisted England would need better discipline than shown against South Africa and they couldn’t expect to survive against New Zealand on the paltry possession and territory they made do with against the Boks.
“The mood in the camp will be so much better than had they lost though, and England will get better with another week’s training and the chance to add some detail. I’m just not sure it’ll be enough.”
ALL BLACKS RECORD AGAINST ENGLAND AT TWICKENHAM
Won 15, drew 1, lost 5
2014: won 24-21
2013: won 30-22
2012: lost 21-38
2009: won: 19-6
2008: won 32-6
2006: won 41-20
2005: won 23-19
2002: lost 28-31
1999: won 30-16
1997: drew 26-26
1993: lost 9-15
1991: won 18-12
1983: lost 9-15
1979: won 10-9
1978: won 16-6
1973: won 9-0
1967: won 23-11
1964: won 14-0
1954: won 5-0
1936: lost 0-13
1925: won 17-11