England v New Zealand, Twickenham, December 1
All Blacks look to cap unbeaten year in style
November 29, 2012
Gloucester playmaker Freddie Burns could make his international debut for England from the bench © Getty Images
Head to Head
England will look to add some much-needed gloss to an otherwise disappointing autumn campaign against an all-conquering New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday.
Stuart Lancaster's side went into their end of year series full of hope after finishing their summer tour of South Africa with an impressive 14-14 draw. Things began well with an easy victory over a woeful Fiji in their opener but they then fell to a beleaguered Australia before losing to the Springboks by a solitary point in their most recent outing. Captain Chris Robshaw's decision making has been questioned both on and off the pitch but the England management have stuck by their skipper and he will hope to make amends against the Kiwis.
England now know that they cannot break into the top four of the IRB rankings and in the process secure the best possible seeding for the 2015 World Cup pool draw next month so they will be playing for pride rather than ranking points. And their opponents also do not have that worry of a World Cup seeding hanging over them as they have been by far and away the best side in the world for some time - a fact reflected by their No.1 ranking.
The All Blacks are on a 20-match unbeaten run that has seen them add the Rugby Championship trophy to their already over-loaded mantelpiece. On their latest tour of the northern hemisphere, they have also swept all before them with wins over Scotland, Italy and Wales but it has not been plain sailing for them off the pitch.
The media focus has centred on hooker Andrew Hore who was hit with a five-match ban earlier this week for striking Wales second row Bradley Davies - a ban which some deemed lenient - and the squad have also been rocked by the Norovirus with coach Steve Hansen claiming that all but two of their players have been sick.
England - Player to Watch: Owen Farrell is one of the four best players in the world, according to the latest IRB Player of the Year shortlist, and he gets the nod at fly-half in place of the injured Toby Flood. He will be under pressure to shine, especially as he is up against the best No.10 in the world, and the All Blacks will need to keep a close eye on him.
England - Team News: Lancaster has made just one change from the side that fell to the Boks with Farrell coming in for the injured Flood. And he has also made two tweaks to the bench with the fit again Courtney Lawes replacing Mouritz Botha. Uncapped Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns is also named among the replacements and could make his debut for England if given the nod.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Julian Savea is the in-form winger in world rugby. He has made an electric start to his time with the Kiwis and has scored ten tries in his first eight games. He will come up against a resolute England defence but has all the ability to squeeze over the tryline from the most unlikely of positions.
New Zealand - Team News: Dan Carter comes back into the Kiwis' side after missing their win over Wales with a calf injury. Elsewhere, Keven Mealamu starts at hooker in place of the suspended Hore but Mealamu along with prop Tony Woodcock will face late fitness tests on calf injuries. And in another change, Brodie Retallick gets the nod ahead of Luke Romano in the second row.
Key Battle: Robshaw will hope to put in a solid showing after coming in for criticism during the week, but it will not get any easier for the England skipper. He faces the world's best openside Richie McCaw who will be looking to end the year on a high note ahead of his sabbatical from the game.
Trivia: Tony Woodcock's try in last weekend's Test was statistically significant: firstly because it was the 1700th try scored by an All Black in a Test match. Secondly, the try took the All Blacks beyond 13,000 points in Test rugby.
Stats: The All Blacks first XV boasts 788 caps while England's totals just 206.
"We asked for a big response from the players after Australia and we got one last Saturday against South Africa, although ultimately we were denied. That frustration has been channelled this week and the whole squad has reacted with a determination to get a victory against the top team in the world." - England boss Stuart Lancaster
"The ban is what we expected. We don't want to see that in the game and although we love Andrew, we didn't love what he did. The intent was to do something else but he got it drastically wrong. As a result of that he hit the man on the chin and knocked him out. You don't want to see that in the game. He was embarrassed, we were embarrassed. Our thoughts were with Bradley Davies." - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on Andrew Hore's suspension
Prediction: The All Blacks will end the year unbeaten but Lancaster's team will push them close
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.