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Mike Brown Exclusive: 'England need to catch the All Blacks cold'

BY Jack Tunney  ·  Thursday Jul 4, 2024

With England set to face the All Blacks in the much-anticipated first test in Dunedin on Saturday, who better to discuss the potential match-up than a man who’s faced the mighty enemy seven times?

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One of England’s greatest-ever fullbacks, Mike Brown has felt the full force of the greatest All Black reign in the professional era, losing six out of the seven tests he faced with England. So, when it comes to facing the men in black, Mike knows a thing or two about what the boys in white will be facing.

This summer, England will have just two opportunities to defeat a side possibly still reeling from last year’s World Cup final defeat against South Africa, but how do England come away with victory against the three-time world champions?

I definitely think they can target that first test and see if they can catch them a bit cold, because if you look at it – England are a bit further on in their transition,” Brown explained.

“Steve and his staff came in just before the World Cup. It’s not the ideal time to come in, usually they do the full cycle. They had that World Cup to work a few things out, and then during the Six Nations they were still working things out in terms of the new defensive system which I think looks like a weapon now they’ve grasped hold of that.

“Their attack was clunky during the World Cup and even the Six Nations it still wasn’t great halfway through, but then Steve seemed to grab hold of his players and coaches. They looked really exciting with ball in hand towards the back in that Six Nations and then against Japan most recently. So, they’re a bit further on in their transition, and they’ve tried a few players out as well.”

PARIS, FRANCE – OCTOBER 25: (L-R) Sam Underhill, Freddie Steward and Henry Arundell of England put their boots on prior to a training session at Institut National du Sport on October 25, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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England may be starting to get into their stride, especially after their impressive win over the mighty Ireland during the Six Nations, but where do New Zealand stand in comparison?

“New Zealand naturally come into this World Cup cycle having made a lot of changes in their staff and a few changes in players in terms of guys moving on, changes in captain, some players coming back, some players dropping out, so it’ll be interesting to see where New Zealand are at.

“I think it’s exciting for them ’cause I’m a big fan of Scott Robertson, ‘razor’, having had him for a couple of weeks with Barbarians, I can say he’s an unbelievable guy, very different to anyone else. He must have been doing something right with the Crusaders being one of the best club teams in the world, considering how many times they won the Super Rugby competition.

“There are some really exciting players in the New Zealand team, but they haven’t played together yet as that new set-up. The coaches have only just started implementing their new systems so that would take time to bed-in, so I think if there’s a time to really test New Zealand and go after a win, it’s that first one.

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“It’ll be interesting to see how far along they are. They would have had 2-3 weeks camped together, some even less having only joined up after their competition final which was last week, so it’ll be interesting.”

While many are unsure quite how the All Blacks are going to come out firing, and which playing style they’ll undertake under their new coach, fans were treated to a comprehensive performance by their upcoming opponents, England, in their victory over Japan last weekend.

“Looking at England’s last game against Japan, I was really impressed with how they came through that game. Japan are going through a similar transition with Eddie Jones coming in and they were missing some players as well, but that was a tough place to go, tough conditions which the England players wouldn’t have been used to.

“Japan came out flying out the blocks to try and catch them cold and use those tough conditions, the heat and the humidity, to their advantage. But I thought England managed the game well, they managed the pace of the game to fit what they wanted to control.

“They slowed it down when they needed to so they could stop Japan’s momentum, especially at the start when they came flying out the blocks and tried to play that fast pace, but also slowed it down when they needed to get hold of the heat that would have been sapping their energy.

“Things like just kicking it out instead of keeping the ball in play so they could then get to a set piece and slow it down a bit, then attack them at the set piece Then they were able to speed it up when they had the ball in dangerous positions and took the opportunities well in terms of attack, playing fast-paced at the right times.”

Japan are certainly in a transitional period, but playing in front of a fired-up All Black crowd ready to re-emerge as the global rugby superpower will be another challenge entirely.

“If you don’t manage a game against New Zealand, if you let them dictate where they want to play fast, which is where they’re at their best with all those players that they’ve got, you can lose grip of the game. Once they gain momentum they’re probably the hardest team in the world to gain it back off.

“Having played in a couple of tests myself, if you lose momentum then the crowd can get on top of you. They can be suffocating at the best of times and it’s hard work to then get that grip back. When you are chasing it, the game becomes even harder to manage.”

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 19: Owen Farrell, the England captain, walks onto the pitch for his 100th international appearance walks onto the pitch during the Autumn International match between England and New Zealand All Blacks at Twickenham Stadium on November 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

If England are going to step up and take a famous victory in Dunedin, certain players need to step up. Mike is pretty sure which areas need to be attacked.

“The halfbacks are going to be dictating the tempo, they’re calling the shots so Alex Mitchell and Marcus Smith, who both played really well against Japan, will be important – but mainly I think the forwards will play a massive role.

“If there’s an area that I might look at targeting, it would be the forwards because we have a quite settled forward pack filled with very strong players and I think they could probably go after the opposition a little bit there. This will help them manage the game and put New Zealand on the back foot, perhaps using their force to take them into areas that they might not want to necessarily be in, making it a bit uncomfortable.

“They need to take the set pieces at the right times and not allow New Zealand to play the fast-paced, unstructured, high-tempo game, so use those forwards to do that. If they can make their forwards do some hard work in those set-piece situations, then they take their legs away a bit for the areas that they want to then use their legs for, which is that fast-paced attacking element.”

England will face the All Blacks at 08:05 UK time on Saturday the 6th of July.

Tune into the next article when Mike Brown will provide his thoughts on Damian Mckenzie, Marcus Smith and others.

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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