Enough finger pointing, time for All Black action

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 14/06/2014
All Blacks
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ

EVERYONE IN: The All Blacks pose for a team photo at yesterday's captain's run in Dunedin.

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Few people listened to the All Blacks last week when they banged-on about how wary they were of England.

How things have changed ahead of tonight's second test at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Now it seems everyone agrees this England team, far from being a tired and disinterested group after a long domestic season, are capable of having a dig and if the All Blacks don't watch each other's backs then next week's test in Hamilton could be the decider of the three-test series.

The All Blacks scolded the public for not heeding their warnings but, given the way they performed in last weekend's ropey 20-15 win at Eden Park, you could just as easily point the finger back and state they didn't seem to believe their own propaganda much either.

That's not a difficult conclusion to draw given their error-ridden display; now we must wait and see whether they still possess the ability to rock England with their much-promised backlash.

Captain Richie McCaw demanded more intent and accountability.

"If we get that again we are going to come second and that's not the standard we expect. And because of that we have gone up a bit (at training this week).''

England have complicated the All Blacks' task by reinforcing their backline.

The insertion of midfielders Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell has shifted the hard-running Manu Tuilagi to the right wing, Owen Farrell returns to first five-eighth despite the accomplished efforts of Freddie Burns and halfback Danny Care is back from injury.

England forwards coach Graham Rowntree has allowed just one change to a pack that shaded the All Blacks, bringing Tom Wood into blindside flanker.

Some of the most candid comments seeping out of the All Blacks have come from coach Steve Hansen who said he had never seen the All Blacks execute so badly since he took over as head coach in 2012.

He should get a much better return from his side tonight.

The return of left wing Julian Savea from a bruise on his knee bone adds some thunder to the attack and Ben Smith, in the absence of the injured Israel Dagg, should revel in his first start at fullback in a test on his home ground.

The All Blacks haven't lost in New Zealand since the Springboks' Frans Steyn punished them with his booming boot at Waikato Stadium in 2009.

A better scrum and clarity around their game plan is essential inside the enclosed stadium. Giving away penalties will allow Farrell, who Rowntree boasted didn't miss any of his kicks during yesterday's captain's run, to inflate England's self belief.

If the All Blacks had managed to produce something more significant than their C-grade stuff in Auckland they may be preparing to engage a deflated bunch of Englishmen.

Instead there was more bounce in the tourists' stride as they strutted into Dunedin on Thursday night and a confident Rowntree talked-up his side by stating their arsenal is varied and dangerous.

"We want to play quick,'' Rowntree emphasised. "I was alarmed at some of the comments that say we want to slow the game down, in the press this week; we want to play quick.

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"We have got a lightning quick backline and a dynamic pack of forwards.''

All this from an England side that repeatedly slowed down the first test with their pre-lineout huddles.

Tensions are high in both camps. If the handbags start swinging in the opening minutes, no-one should be surprised.

- Former Crusaders and Hurricanes lock Michael Paterson has been called into the England squad and will be considered for Tuesday night's match against the Crusaders in Christchurch.

- The Press

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Related story: Cruden left at home after night out drinking

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