ABs to extend dominance

The All Blacks have not lost to Northern Hemisphere opposition in 20 games, the last loss being at home to England in 2003.

Since that day in Wellington where the Poms squeaked home by 15-13, New Zealand have beaten all contenders north of the equator. The wins were notched up against the likes of Wales (4 times), the British Lions (3), England (3), France (3), Ireland (3), Italy (2), Canada and Scotland. Fourteen of those 20 victories have come under the current coaching regime of Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith.

The European tour starts in Twickenham this week against England, followed by two matches against France and another one-off against Wales. The All Blacks have been in rampant form this year, only losing one Test to the Springboks in Rustenburg. With both the English and the French missing a few key players through injury, New Zealand’s chances of increasing this winning streak are increasingly strong.

However, backline coach Smith downplayed the mental edge New Zealand has over their opponents. “We understand their game pretty well, having had all three of us coach up here before,” he said. “That’s a bit of a bonus, but what’s happened in the past is irrelevant.

“We respect them very much. I don’t think there’s ever been an easy game at Twickenham. You can’t worry too much about other people’s expectations.

“It will be a big occasion opening a new stand and the England guys will be wanting to put in a performance that sets their autumn Tests off well for them. I think it will be a real toughie. Last year wasn’t an easy occasion, and I can’t see it being any different.”

Smith explained that despite their success in recent years, there is definitely room for improvement in certain aspects of the game. The line-out in particular has been a worry for the All Blacks this season.

“You’re wanting to tweak things all the time. If you don’t keep improving then other people are going to go past you: they’ll catch up or they’ll have a new idea of their own, and that’ll be enough to go past you.”

Besides New Zealand’s 20 wins against Northern Hemisphere teams, this period also includes three Tri-Nations titles in 2003, 2005 and 2006, a 3-0 series win over the British Lions in 2005 and a Grand Slam title in 2005.

The England team will be announced on Tuesday, while New Zealand will hold off naming their squad of 22 until Thursday.