A classic rugby-rivalry: New Zealand v England, RWC semifinal one

A classic rugby-rivalry: New Zealand v England
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If ever there were a classic rugby-rivalry, then you can look at the New Zealand v England fixture as a ‘little brother boxing hard against the big brother’. The colonial outpost taking on the motherland – fought over generations, and being played out at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

In rugby terms, one might think that the more senior team [in terms of success] would be New Zealand, yet for as long as the game has been played, England and the United Kingdom has been a rugby superpower. It is only in the results and statistics, where the All Blacks are by far the superior ‘rugby power’.

Now with this newest New Zealand v England match scheduled, the argument will have already begun, with fans taking sides, rugby observers holding their views, and all the while sports odds makers weigh in on the form and statistical favoritism.

This feature looks at the past, the recent history, and examines the form of both sides as they face off in the Rugby World Cup (RWC) semifinals.

A classic rugby-rivalry: New Zealand v England

Since 1905, the two nations have officially played International fixtures. That record may not include the unofficial games, the encounters not recorded or where clubs or provincial unions in New Zealand, would play representatives of the Crown. But overall, the official count is 41 games.

The original format for an All Blacks tour saw only singular tests against England in the early years. The first dozen tests spanned 77 years before a wealth of matches established the long-running conflict between the white shirt of England vs the all-black kit of New Zealand [hence, All Blacks]. The 1985 series was a watershed, where the All Blacks followed up with a win at the 1991 Rugby World Cup pool stage.

That was the first of four RWC fixtures where New Zealand v England clashes were at the forefront of the International game. One of those was the classic 1995 RWC match including Jonah Lomu. A classic rugby memory for global rugby fans, even if Mike Catt may not enjoy being ‘walked all over’ by the All Black legend that was, Jonah Lomu.

Over a short period, including the 1999 RWC, the New Zealand team held a strong ascendancy. That was until in 2002 a more committed home nation would steal a famous 31-28 win at Twickenham.

It was the first step on a pathway where the power-shift was pointed northward. A year later, they would land in Aotearoa, and leave with the scalp of the All Blacks (see below match) and put doubt into the minds of the Kiwi players and sports odds makers.

That result counted for much, when New Zealand did not reach the final in 2003 – which England was of course, victorious at.

In this era, the England team were in fact dominant. The personality of Martin Johnson – given a wise rugby education in New Zealand – saw his group out-muscle the All Blacks. Something that was corrected in 2005, when the British and Irish Lions tours (including a pseudo-England lineup, coached by Sir Clive Owen) was given a sharp lesson by the host nation.

From June 2004, to December 2012, the New Zealand team has a sequence of nine straight wins. Broken in a well-played match by England at Twickenham, where there record is strongest. The rivalry is one made out of respect, and the challenge laid down – and always accepted – from England.

Current form and World Rugby rankings

The above two factors are not entirely related. Even while a win or loss can impact on form, the World Rugby rankings have fluctuated to such a degree in this RWC window, that several leading rugby sports agents like MobileBet have analyzed form, above rankings. The changing places mean little, as points given in pool play are diluted when knockout rugby matches are worthy of twice or three times the value [literally].

As the sides now face knockout football, the importance of form is a factor that holds more sway. The media attention, the value of the global sports being recognized in BBC World/CNN Global reports is beneficial to the profile of the game. Seen as one of the top five International sporting events every four years, that focus is both a benefit to the region, and to people taking up the game.

But it can also be a distraction too. Taking away somewhat, from domestic rugby. Even so, if betting agents see an increase in interest in Rugby Union, then it will see International leagues and competitions also rewarded.

What will count the most though is the last four teams must now focus less on ideas, and increase a focus on mental preparations, above individual form of those nations. The New Zealand side has the superior winning record undoubtedly, however, losses to Wales by England are nothing to disrespect their credibility. Eddie Jones and his coaching staff are the equal of any group at the RWC; including Steve Hansen and his New Zealand team.

The odds are not yet stacked for one team or the other, but the classic rivalry adds a degree more interest to sports fans around the Globe.

New Zealand v England – Saturday, October 26. Yokohama Stadium


“Main photo credit”
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