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England showed promise against All Blacks ahead of Eden Park finale

Weirdly for England, Saturday’s 16-15 loss to New Zealand in Dunedin was their first match in three against the All Blacks that ended in defeat.
Weirdly for England, Saturday’s 16-15 loss to New Zealand in Dunedin was their first match in three against the All Blacks that ended in defeat.

Weirdly for England, Saturday’s 16-15 loss to New Zealand in Dunedin was their first match in three against the All Blacks that ended in defeat.

In their last trio of games against the three-time world champions – in Japan at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, at Twickenham in 2022 and down in New Zealand at the weekend – England have recorded a win, draw and loss against one of the game’s mightiest sides.

So, then, while their one-point defeat – which saw Marcus Smith miss eight points from the tee – will be one that left disappointment in the side, England looked to be back close to that 2019 team in Japan, who at times were the most feared team in global rugby.

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They’ve established an aggressive blitz defence which forced the All Blacks into a style of play they’re not traditionally comfortable with and, on the whole, they looked like a side more connected in attack.

But there were crucial errors made which let New Zealand off at times and mistakes which denied England points.

“I wouldn’t say they would be pleased, it’ll be another close match next week,” said Owen Farrell yesterday, the former England captain who was part of the last side to tour with the Red Rose in New Zealand in 2014.

He’s right. England had the chance to win that game and earn their first victory against New Zealand in their back yard since 2003, but that chance was squandered.

England have come a long way in the Steve Borthwick era, though, and they look to be a team who are developing a game plan that is difficult to break down.

Tweaks will be made and improvements will be sought, but this is looking like a side fans can enjoy watching once more.

England to make history?

And that is something that has taken time to achieve.

Since the days of the 2019 World Cup under Eddie Jones, England have been going through a dogged rebuild whereby fans have been put off by bad performances and an unexciting playing style.

But with the Six Nations returning promising results – including a win against Ireland – and England performing well in a winning cause in Japan and in a narrow defeat to New Zealand, it looks as though Borthwick is close to finding his formula.

Fin Baxter, the Harlequins youngster, impressed on debut given he was forced onto the pitch early due to an injury for veteran scrummager Joe Marler.

Marler will arrive back in the United Kingdom this week with his replacement Emmanuel Iyogun of Northampton Saints landing Down Under on Tuesday, leaving England short on experience in the loosehead prop position.

And the biggest challenge awaits England now, a match against the All Blacks at Eden Park.

It has been 30 years since a team has gone to the Auckland venue and beaten the hosts – France’s 23-20 victory in 1994 – and England haven’t won there since 1973.

So 51 years of history are on the line for those who wear the Red Rose. And with the gutsy performance they put in over in Dunedin, they’ll believe they’ve got a chance this Saturday.