Hansen wary of new-look England

2014-11-07 09:10
Steve Hansen (AFP)

London - New Zealand coach Steve Hansen is adamant the world champions remain wary of an injury-hit England ahead of their clash at Twickenham on Saturday.

After seeing off the United States 74-6 in Chicago last week, the All Blacks begin the crunch part of their end of season tour against the 2015 World Cup hosts.

While Hansen has no qualms about leaving out all-time record points scorer Dan Carter, still in his view not fully fit after a succession of injuries and starting with Aaron Cruden at fly-half, that is the kind of selection luxury England counterpart Stuart Lancaster can only dream of this weekend.

Injuries have deprived him of first-choice centres Manu Tuilagi - a try-scorer and maker in England's stunning 38-21 win over the All Blacks at Twickenham in 2012 - and Luther Burrell, as well as locks Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury and British and Irish Lions star prop Alex Corbisiero.

England's back division includes a debutant wing in Fiji-born British Army soldier Semesa Rokoduguni, whose likely direct opponent, Julian Savea, has an outstanding record of 29 tries in 30 Tests, including eight in four matches against England.

"I don't think it's that inexperienced," said Hansen of an England back division that includes a previously untried centre pairing of Kyle Eastmond and Brad Barritt.

"Most of them have played Test rugby apart from the Fijian lad (Rokoduguni) who has just come into the side."

Since their 2012 success, England have lost four successive Tests against the All Blacks, including a 3-0 series defeat in New Zealand in June.

They have received praise for their positive approach but, less than a year out from the World Cup, a victory on Saturday would be timely for England.

This weekend's match marks England's first international since June whereas Four Nations kings New Zealand are well into an international programme.

"The big advantage we've got is that we've played a lot of Tests since June and the disadvantage is England have played none," said Hansen.

"I guess there is an advantage for them in that too. They've seen what we are doing - we can only second-guess.

"Do they stick with the adventurous game they want to play or do they think to themselves 'we'll take them on up front' or do they do a bit of both, which is probably more likely?"

Although a New Zealand visit to Twickenham is now almost an annual event, Hansen said playing at the venue for next year's World Cup final was always a memorable experience for the All Blacks.

"Twickenham is one of the great rugby grounds, isn't it?", said Hansen. "It holds 83,000, that's what you want when you play rugby, you want to play in the big stadiums and be challenged. Twickenham is always one of those places that does that."

The head-to-head contest between England's Danny Care and New Zealand's Aaron Smith, two of the sharper scrum-halves in world rugby, will be intriguing as will the display of leadership skills of the two flanker-captains in Chris Robshaw and All Blacks great Richie McCaw.

"New Zealand are strong across the board, very experienced and with world-class players in a lot of positions," said Lancaster.

"But it's not dissimilar to the side we played in the summer, the side we played this time last year or two years ago and, on each occasion, we either won or pushed them close."

Lancaster's side might do well to demonstrate similar obstinacy to a capacity crowd who are likely to react to New Zealand's haka with a rousing chorus of Twickenham anthem 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' -- a response that's almost becoming as traditional at 'headquarters' as the Maori war dance is to any All Blacks' international.

Inevitably, the match will be viewed through the prism of the upcoming World Cup and Hansen said: "It's not far away. is it? You can just about reach out and touch it.

"But we've got a job to do on Saturday that's got nothing to do with the World Cup."

Read more on:    all blacks  |  steve hansen  |  rugby

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