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One-on-one England struggle with All Blacks

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    04 Dec 2017     Getty Images

English rugby writer Nick Cain wrote in The Rugby Paper this week that coach Eddie Jones was consistently pointing out that the All Blacks were the pacesetters England would have to surpass if they were to achieve their World Cup goal in Tokyo in 2019.

However, there was frustration with the fact there was no way of measuring how close England were to the All Blacks until they play.



England could only surmise where they might be. Cain said in applying that approach things didn't shape well for England, and by the time they played next year they could be running out of opportunities to make changes.

"A comparison points categorically to New Zealand being superior in almost every department," Cain said.

"Jones acknowledges the benchmarks set by New Zealand almost every time he talks about them, but it is not until you do a man-for-man audit that the size of the gains his team has to make over the next two years truly comes into focus."

Cain looked at the best starting XVs for the two sides from the past year and found England gaining a place in only three positions.

He rates loosehead prop Mako Vunipola ahead of Joe Moody, lock Maro Itoje ahead of Sam Whitelock and second five-eighths Owen Farrell ahead of Sonny Bill Williams.

"In the other 12 positions the All Blacks are ahead, and it is a reasonable assumption that if England cannot win more than three individual battles then their chance of supplanting New Zealand as world champions is minimal.

"Furthermore, while England followers can argue that it is the sum of their team's parts that makes them formidable, there are few teams who outstrip New Zealand in terms of collective strength.

"England may be making improvements but the same is true of New Zealand.

"Nothing illustrates the depth of their playing resources more than the way they made good the loss of first-choice players during their unbeaten autumn run," he said.

Another factor was New Zealand's ability to find players with the individual flair to crack open the defensive screens increasingly being put up by opposing sides and this was a key area of difference between the All Blacks and England.

Fifteen England players had returned from their involvement in the British & Irish Lions tour this year as better players but their weakest return was in terms of strike power, he said. None of them had been as lethal in attack as the likes of Rieko Ioane and Jordie Barrett.

Specific areas of concerns for England were in the five-eighths where they lack the dangers New Zealand can muster with the ball in hand and in the loose where they can't generate the pace the All Blacks produce.

"Jones was spot on when he described his side after their Autumn games as, 'Good, but not bloody good'. He has also said that thanks to England's Lions contingent his outfit have an 'outstanding' dossier on the All Blacks.

"They will need all the insight they can get, because New Zealand head home after a northern tour with an under-strength squad looking bloody good," he said.