Rough and tumble
England's must-win game with New Zealand won't be for the feint of heart... and Stevo cannot wait!
Last Updated: 06/11/09 9:49am
New Zealand's 20-20 draw with Australia at The Stoop last month was a fantastic spectacle. It was one of the toughest games I've seen all year, a real old-fashioned tussle. And Saturday night's match at the Galpharm Stadium will be just as good, if not better.
This is going to be a bloody affair. England have made three changes from the defeat to Australia. Tony Smith has gone for sheer power. The selection of hard, powerful players on the bench indicates to me that he is going to take on the Kiwis down the middle.
It's going to be a real battle and barge game, and whoever is the toughest is going to come out on top. This will not be a game for the feint of heart. This in not about skill factor in the opening 15 minutes; it's about supremacy in the forwards, getting over the advantage line and forcing back the opposition. Only then will the skill factor come into the game. That's when the likes of Eastmond and Sam Tomkins can display their talents.
It's quite obvious to everybody that England have to get off to a flying start in this game. They were down 12-4 against France in the first half and 26-0 down at half-time to the Australians. Granted they came back strong in both of those games but they cannot afford to allow that to happen here.
England can't allow New Zealand any try-scoring opportunities. They are probably a more physical and powerful side than Australia. They've got a number of big players who are rough and tough, but they're also a very mobile side.
Because of this Smith has decided to fight fire with fire. It was great to see Eorl Crabtree get excited and involved when he was introduced early on against the Aussies. The elevation to international level has given him the confidence that he can mix it with the best, and he'll be looking to do the same if given a chance here.
The fightback against Australia could not have come at a better time, and it gives England hope heading into this game against the World Cup holders. Smith has thrown all his eggs in one basket here. I think Peter Fox is a big gamble. While capable with the ball in hand, he's not the strongest of players, especially when teams start kicking high balls. He'll be spotlighted there. It's also a big call bringing in Chris Bridge, but he is one tough cookie.
The Kevin Sinfield query also seems to have finally been solved. We've been asking the question for ages, why he can't make the step up to international level. And I've been answering for just as long; he has to be in charge and boss the game. He looked even better when he was linking into dummy-half and acting as a hooker, because he was controlling things. He wants to be creative so keep him out of the bash and barge; he's not that kind of player. He's got finesse with the ball in hand.
Sinfield will come into his own in the second half, and so will Eastmond and Tompkins. That is yet another brave move by Smith, opting for such a young combination. But these two kids are definitely good enough.
Psychologically England have to make sure they keep it tight. The Kiwis are going to be understrength. Steve Matai is out with an eye injury, and back-row forward Greg Eastwood is also sidelined.
New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney will be fully aware that England's forwards were the main force behind their second-half comeback against Australia, and will look to counter that. They have an abundance of quality, such as Thomas Leuluai, whose running from dummy-half in the opening 20 minutes against France was quite superb. When you see that sort of thing it shows you the quality of Kearney's coaching. And Leuluai isn't afraid to put in the hard yards in defence either.
Then, when Leuluai has taken all the sting out of it Kearney can go and throws on Isaac Luke, who I reckon is currently one of the best hookers in the world. He's an exceptional talent, as are Nathan Fien and Benji Marshall, whose combination play is fantastic.
Nonetheless I'm confident England can win at the Galpharm. My only worry is about Fox and Bridge; the Kiwis are going to test them out early on. But if I was in New Zealand's corner I'd be more worried about what's going to be coming at them down the middle. You don't pick four big forwards on the bench if you're thinking about flair.
England can do it. Let's forget about the World Cup; that's in the past. This is a new beginning, and you feel they have a great team spirit. The Kiwis work incredibly hard for each other. England have got to match that, and I think they can.
This game isn't going to be about finesse; it's all about winning. And I don't care if we win by a drop goal, just as long as we do!