Dylan Hartley believes England are more than worthy opponents for New Zealand ahead of the World Cup semi-final in Yokohama.
The All Blacks are aiming to make it a hat-trick of World Cup triumphs, but must get past Eddie Jones’ well-drilled and powerful troops in Japan first.
Rugby aficionados believe the two best sides in the tournament have met one step too early, with the winner surely favourites to life the William Webb Ellis trophy on November 2.
The last contest between the two sides took place almost 12 months ago as a contentious offside decision spared the All Blacks as they secured a 15-16 win at Twickenham.
Hartley, who captained England that day, believes the lessons learned from that rain-soaked performance in 2018 on the sodden Twickenham pitch will be crucial and identified the two men who can hurt the All Blacks.
“Ultimately, we have got a team full of winners,” Hartley told talkSPORT’s Will Gavin. “A team full of guys that have been in these games; knockout games, European rugby, Premiership rugby.
“With guys that have been with the Lions and beaten New Zealand in New Zealand.
“And then, where we haven’t got that experience, we’ve got these guys like [Sam] Underhill and [Tom] Curry. Experience is great when you want that narrative, when you haven’t got experience you look at what they do have and that’s bags of energy and enthusiasm.
“They’re skilled, additional, hard-working players so I think just the occasion and the excitement that these guys can bring to the game like they have the rest of the tournament is what we can expect from the younger guys that don’t have that big game experience.
“So I think the blend is perfect and, I’m like you, obviously a fan. I want to see the game from a personal point of view, very disappointed to not be there! But in reality you have to deal with these things.
“It is what it is and you just move on. But ultimately I can watch the game now as a fan and I’m looking forward it.”
Both sides recorded convincing wins in their quarter-finals, with the All Blacks smashing Ireland and England avenging their group stage defeat to Australia from four years ago.
Critics are suggesting it will be a battle of skill vs will; England’s dominant pack against the free-flowing Maori mayhem at the breakdown.
But Hartley, who was born in Rotorua, believes the Red Rose should play with no fear against the All Blacks and must see themselves as equals.
He added: “Both teams have a great structured game; they’ve got good, reliable set-piece, good defence, good mauling game, good tactical nous.
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“And then, if it becomes unstructured, maybe in the past England couldn’t have gone toe-to-toe with the All Blacks. But I genuinely believe we’ve got an unstructured game where we can create opportunities and ultimately finish them.
“So I think the game is going to be won and lost on a couple of key moments in the game, you only get a couple in Test match rugby. It’s who can kind of capitalise on those moments.
“And ultimately, discipline. Both teams are kind of sub-ten penalties per game. But as we’ve seen with the theme of this World Cup, these high shots and these red cards, they affect the game.
“So discipline is going to be important and it is too close to call if I’m honest!”
Dylan Hartley was taking part in the Jeep Wrangler Trick Shot Challenge. Learn the skills to carry out your own challenge here:
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