Snook: Old heads will relish shot at youngsters

IAN SNOOK
Last updated 05:00 05/06/2014

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All Blacks

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OPINION: Kieran Brookes, Ed Slater, Henry Trinder and Alex Waller have all arrived in New Zealand. Who are they? They are four of the new players who make up the English rugby squad.

Along with another three debutants in hookers Dave Ward, Joe Gray and Luke Cowan-Dickie they join a plane load of English rugby players about to take on the mighty All Blacks.

Don't scoff, there are more than 2.5 million rugby players in England, with the best of them being cloned into tough and fit athletes who compete in about 30 games a year equivalent to Super Rugby clashes. Well, maybe not quite, but there is plenty of good, physical rugby in the northern hemisphere, and I'm sure Aviva Premiership champions Northampton would fancy their chances against any of our franchises.

With only a few names such as Chris Ashton, Owen Farrell, Dylan Hartley and Manu Tuilagi sticking out at all, it is a squad of fresh faces who will run on against the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday.

No doubt they will have been reminded of 1973 and 2003, when the English had victories in New Zealand.

Unfortunately for them though, they'll need a miracle to happen. Surely they cannot be that good.

It will be the vitality of youth and the visionary coaching of Stuart Lancaster (visionary because this team are allowed to run and pass) against a vastly experienced, almost over experienced, group chosen through loyalty rather than form.

One of the hardest jobs a selector has is to recognise when a previously successful player, who has served the team well, needs to be moved on. There will be several players who will realise and accept this, and will be after big performances.

Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks are not making the starting lineup at the Crusaders, Keven Mealamu appears only a skeleton of the previous bruising and accurate player, Cory Jane's X factor seems to have deserted him for now, Tony Woodcock has stepped it up recently and will want to continue the improvement . . . and so it goes on.

Steven Luatua must be feeling jilted at the Blues, TJ Perenara needs to improve his service and tactical appreciation, and Ma'a Nonu will once again be eager to prove his worth once the black jumper is pulled on.

There are a few chinks in the armour, but insufficient room here to outline the positives. That will happen on Saturday.

It is in the All Blacks environment that the players step up to another level, which will no doubt make this English squad just a little wary. It wasn't so long ago they sent a weakened group to Australia and lost a test by 76 points!

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The feeling, though, is that this English setup are taking steps forward and will be a real threat in next year's World Cup.

For them the trip will be a huge opportunity to establish real credibility on the world stage and for many young players to push themselves forward as future quality internationals.

This is not the bullish brigade of some previous tours, but one suspects a determined and hard-working group. Maybe, just maybe, they'll provide pretty stiff opposition.

Let's hope so. Mind you, that won't change the result from being three tests to nil to the All Blacks!

Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.

- Taranaki Daily News

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