Time for sweeping statement from All Blacks

Last updated 05:00 21/06/2014
Waikato Times

Heading into the third test with England, All Black skipper Richie McCaw says the team is motivated to make it a test series clean sweep.

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Anyone expecting a blowout in Hamilton tonight should quash such grand illusions.

Keeping the foot on England's throat doesn't require a double-digit winning margin, though a more complete performance has been demanded.

With a world record in sight, the All Blacks have every reason to again lift standards and maintain their five-year unbeaten home record. The series is sealed but a valuable sweep is within reach.

"It would be horrible to go away from this three-match series having won it but not won the last one," All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said.

For interactive third test lineups, click here.

At the end of a long season there's no shortage of motivation for England, either. A rare triumph over the world's best team 15 months out from the pinnacle tournament would see confidence soar. Conversely, a fourth straight defeat to the All Blacks would severely dent the self-belief of an ever-emerging contender.   

Due respect has been paid to the tourists throughout this enthralling series. For good reason, too. Don't let results alone fool you; the Red Rose are an outfit on the rise under Stuart Lancaster's progressive regime.

"They're a determined bunch. I don't think we've broken their spirit," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen observed. "They're a group of people that believe in themselves so they'll get up again."

Publicly, Hansen and co have downplayed the chance to equal the (1965-69) All Blacks' and (1997-98) Springboks' 17 test wins in a row. But with a stated whiteboard goal of becoming the greatest, there is no doubt matching and, indeed, surpassing such a record feat is an internal focus. Memories of falling short with a draw in Brisbane two years ago will only enhance the collective drive.

"We've acknowledged the fact that there's an opportunity there but that doesn't guarantee that's going to happen," McCaw said. "It will be a by-product of a good performance. It would be a nice thing to tuck away but there's 80 minutes to do that first."

Selective memories gloss over the fact England should have been 17-3 ahead last week, but for Ben Smith's heroics, and let a treasured victory slip in the dying stages at Eden Park. Oh how they'll regret that final two minutes.

The first two encounters have been tightly contested. This will be no different.

Forecast of a cool, wet evening at Waikato Stadium will test tactical minds and, despite Hansen's challenge to attack, is further evidence running rugby may be at a premium. The prospect of a greasy ball may suit the visitors and suggests there will be no repeat of last week's high-tempo razzle from both sides. Grunt may prevail over the glamorous.

Kyle Eastmond's reinstatement at second five-eighth, in one of eight positional changes, offers England more subtly. Their top-line forward pack, bolstered by bullish No 8 Billy Vunipola, experienced lock Courtney Lawes and Rotorua-born hooker Dylan Hartley, will attempt to slow the All Blacks' ruck speed and back their rolling maul to cause concern. Minimising the lethal counter attacking opportunities of Ben Smith, Julian Savea and Cory Jane is another top priority.  

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The All Blacks' frequently underrated tight-five - a settled, cohesive unit with Dane Coles now making a home at hooker - must again lay the platform and control the set-piece, as they did in Dunedin. That will pave the way for the reunited trio of Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino to terrorise.    

"There were a number of areas of our game from test one to two that as tight forwards we weren't happy with," lock Sam Whitelock said. "We had a prime opportunity to go out there and fix them. This week is no different."

This week, the All Blacks' bench is also superior. In Beauden Barrett and Liam Messam they hold two super-subs capable of exposing tired legs.

Individual intrigue will centre on Read's return and the All Blacks' new midfield pairing - in particular the battle between Pacific Island opponents Malakai Fekitoa and Manu Tuilagi.

But sending England home with bruised pride and sufficient doubt in their luggage is the ultimate, immediate task.

- Stuff

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