Fresh from a historic trip to the United States and handing out a 74-6 demolition to their gracious hosts, the New Zealand All Blacks visit England looking for a statement win ahead of their defense of the World Cup trophy back in the same country next year. Steve Hansen’s side have lost just twice since hoisting the Webb Ellis Cup aloft on home soil three years ago, against South Africa last month, after the All Blacks had already claimed the 2014 Rugby Championship, and two years ago against England at Twickenham.
It’s a record that has led many to describe this New Zealand side as the best rugby team of all time. They may well have the chance to confirm that billing in the English capital next October. For now, though, they will aiming to reinforce their status as the undoubted favorites heading into the big event. While England came out on top at the end of 2012, New Zealand were a class apart when the two sides last met at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton in June this year. A 36-13 win completed a clean sweep of the three-match series and was a demoralizing way for England to head into what has been a five-month break. In contrast, New Zealand’s match in front of a sold-out Soldier Field in Chicago was their seventh since June. Yet Hansen is wary of what plans England have drawn up in the intervening time.
“You've got to work on the what-ifs --- what will they do differently?” he said, reports the New Zealand Herald. “We've played a lot of games since we last played [each other]. They've played none. What are they going to bring that's different? Have we covered it all off in our thinking or have we missed something? It would be annoying if we missed something and they get away with it but I guess that's rugby isn't it?”
The All Blacks made several changes to their lineup for the test with the Eagles, yet gave another stirring account of their incredible depth in quality. Sonny Bill Williams was the star of the show on his return to the international arena with two tries, and the man who made the switch to Rugby League after the 2011 World Cup has kept his place in the team to take on England. There is no spot alongside Williams, though, for Dan Carter, with Aaron Cruden getting the nod over the fit-again all-time record test points scorer.
On the other side, England coach Stuart Lancaster will hand a debut to Semesa Rokoduguni. The exciting winger has quite the backstory, having been born in Fiji and served with the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan. It was while training with the Army team that he was spotted by Bath and began his professional rugby career just two years ago.
"It will be a massive honor to serve England at rugby,” Rokoduguni told BBC Sport. “And I hope people will see me as a British citizen and appreciate everything the foreign-born soldiers are doing for this country, putting their lives on the line.”
Uncapped duo George Kruis and Anthony Watson will be on the bench hoping to join Rokoduguni in making debuts for an England side trying to avoid going 0-4 against New Zealand in 2014 and instead get their November internationals off to a perfect start before taking on South Africa and Australia.
Kickoff time: 9:30 a.m. EST
Live stream: PremiumSports.tv