Interview: Sean Fitzpatrick on England v New Zealand
All Black legend looks ahead to big match at Twickenham
It is sure to be a titanic battle as England take on the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday and we were delighted to sit down at the bar with New Zealand legend and Sky Sports pundit Sean Fitzpatrick to get his thoughts on this huge game
After a four-year wait comes the match that rugby aficionados all over the planet have been waiting for as England take on New Zealand at Twickenham.
Throughout the Eddie Jones era, rugby fans have been anticipating this tie and the prospect of England putting down a marker against the reigning world champions.
Following England's humiliating pool-state exit from their home World Cup in 2015, Jones was given the job of rebuilding the team for Japan 2019. And his masterplan certainly seemed to be working during his early tenure. By March 2017, an 18-match winning streak and back-to-back Six Nations titles showed that England were on course to make a strong run for 2019.
But this early promise gave way to a poor run for the men in white. England have won just four of nine matches in 2018 and are suffering a major injury crisis to boot with a number of unfamiliar faces in the team.
Not ideal circumstances to take on the All Blacks, fresh from yet another Rugby Championship victory, but England's against-the-odds victory against South Africa last weekend, a nailbiting 12-11 win, will give them confidence.
Out-powered and out-paced for much of the 80 minutes by a rampant Springbok pack, England nevertheless tackled themselves to a standstill and managed to hold on for victory thanks to the trusty kicking of fly-half Owen Farrell and fullback Elliot Daly – all their points coming from penalty kicks.
With the World Cup barely a year away, whoever wins this match will receive a huge psychological filip and England will be hoping that they can take their game up several levels and beat the All Blacks for the first time since 2012.
New Zealand legend Sean Fitzpatrick, who will be on pundit duty for Sky Sports on Saturday, is certainly not taking anything for granted, despite the All Blacks' clear status as favourites.
“I can tell you as someone who's run out at Twickenham that it's never an easy place to play,” says the former New Zealand captain, who played 92 Tests for New Zealand during his distinguished playing career.
“Wherever you go as an All Blacks team, the opposition can be guaranteed to play the game of their lives so New Zealand have to be right on their game or they run the risk of getting beaten.
“What has pleased me about the current All Blacks is that they're very, very hard on themselves. They have a really good ethos and are always trying to up the performance level no matter how much success they earn. The All Blacks will be looking to win every game on this tour and will be treating it as a 'mini World Cup' ahead of next year with all the travel between games and how you deal with the logistics.
“This is an important tour and it's the last time they'll play England and Ireland before the World Cup so the last thing they want is to be beaten. Ireland have been a real thorn in their side over last three or four years and there's a real confidence in Irish rugby at the moment.”
New Zealand have a number of dazzling stars in their ranks but none shines as brightly as Beauden Barrett and Fitzpatrick believes that he will be the man pulling the strings for the All Blacks at Twickenham.
“There are a number of key men for the All Blacks but I think that when Beauden Barrett plays well he shows why he is the best player in world rugby at the moment,” says Fitzpatrick.
“It was quite clear in the Rugby Championship that when he played well, he dominated the game. In the first two games of the Championship against Australia, the All Blacks were quite outstanding and a lot of that had to do with the way Barrett managed the game. He is crucial for the All Blacks going forward over the next year.”
And which other players might tip the balance in favour of the All Blacks?
“New Zealand have some tremendous strength in depth and we've seen that with some of the players who emerged throughout this season's Championship,” says Fitzpatrick.
“For example, look at the prop Karl Tu'inukuafe. He was a nightclub bouncer six months ago and now he's playing for the All Blacks and has been outstanding. He's really brought something to the team that they are looking for in terms of ball-carrying and scrummaging and is a real hot property.
“Another player to look out for is Hurricanes backrower Ardie Savea who is getting a great opportunity in the absence of Sam Cane through injury. He's been playing extremely well and has almost reinvented himself as a player with the ability to play at No.8 or at openside flanker.
“And there's also Richie Mo'unga to come off the bench as a fly-half. He's almost going down the Beauden Barrett route during his early international career of coming off the bench and making a massive impact, most notably when he came on against South Africa in Pretoria and just changed the game.”
So, an enormous challenge for England then as New Zealand unleash their supremely talented squad on the Twickenham turf in what is sure to be an unmissable international rugby encounter.
Saturday, November 10
Sky Sports Action/Main Event
England v New Zealand