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'Stratospheric' All Blacks still the benchmark - BBC

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    01 Nov 2018     Getty Images

Their recent form by anyone but New Zealanders' standards was stratospheric, it said, but by the All Blacks' own standards there was room for improvement.

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"The world champions have collected a pair of [Investec] Rugby Championship titles since drawing their series with the Lions in 2017, but they have suffered a couple of losses on the way. Their defeats by Australia in October 2017 and, on home turf, by South Africa in September offer a glimmer of hope to the rest," he said.

The All Blacks could have been in a different place ahead of the tour had they lost their second Test with South Africa in Pretoria. But Ardie Savea's try was the result of 'a superb All Blacks comeback'.

"The try by Savea, who has been remarkable as Sam Cane's injury-replacement, has probably saved the All Blacks' year because, even with a Rugby Championship victory, two defeats by the Boks would have been unforgiveable.

"So the All Blacks are in a good place. They're still number one in the world, they have key forwards Brodie Retallick and Dane Coles returning from injury, and they will be highly motivated for their two big Tests in England and Ireland," it said.

England coach Eddie Jones described the November Tests as 'just sparring' ahead of next year's World Cup. Due to meet the All Blacks on November 10 at Twickenham, the BBC said Jones' honeymoon is well and truly over with England having six consecutive losses since being beaten by Scotland earlier in the year and before claiming a dead rubber win over South Africa in June.
They meet South Africa at the weekend and are in limbo.

"With new coaches and new playing personnel, are England in reality pressing the reset button 12 months out from Japan? Or is this all part of what it takes to win a World Cup?" the BBC asked.

"Either way, Jones believes his players are far fitter and fresher than the group jaded by the Lions tour at the end of 2017, and while England are without some of their best players, the return of Manu Tuilagi from injury and Chris Ashton from exile gives the squad a new – or old – complexion.

"But although the England coaches and players are confident everything is under control despite their poor run, a series of defeats this autumn would send shockwaves through Twickenham," it said.

As for Ireland, they had enjoyed a stellar year and had lost only once since March 2017. Their November 17 game with the All Blacks was the biggest fixture of the month.

"The Six Nations champions are braced by Leinster's European and Pro14 double-winning side and in flyhalf Johnny Sexton they have one of the best tacticians in the game.

"[Joe] Schmidt's focus during this international window is likely to be on fine-tuning his existing playing squad rather than unearthing fresh talent, although a neck injury for influential scrum-half Conor Murray could have an opportunity to one of John Cooner (Ulster), Luke McGrath (Leinster) or Kieran Marmion (Connacht) to take a claim for more Test experience," the BBC said.