England World Cup winner Richard Hill, no stranger to backrow battles, assesses the key match-ups in tomorrow's First Test at Eden Park
Winner of 71 caps for England and famously the only man not to be dropped by Sir Clive Woodward, Richard Hill faced New Zealand on seven times, beating them on two occasions, most famously in 2003 in Wellington. A member of the feted Dallaglio, Back and Hill triumvirate, Hill played all his club rugby at Saracens. Here he gives his measured views on the task that awaits Stuart Lancaster’s backrow tomorrow…
Openside: Chris Robshaw (28, 25 caps) v Richie McCaw (33, 124 caps)
“There’s been a lot of debate around Chris Robshaw’s role at seven, but that’s nothing new. There’s this general consensus that he’s a six and a half but I can tell you that every time he’s played for England, he’s fronted up, whatever the number on his back. He consistently puts his body on the line and leads from the front. He’s obviously up against a hugely experienced operator in Richie (McCaw). Richie is very astute and will only go to the breakdown if he has a 95 per cent chance of winning it. When you’re up against him, you have to assume he’ll commit every time and the minute you hesitate is the time he picks his moment.
“Sometimes he recognises he can’t steal the ball on the floor so he goes up and fill the space beyond they ball so someone else can do the work. It’s funny, partly because of the reputation he has, once he’s at the breakdown, every opposition player thinks they have to clear him out but the England backrow have to be savvy and not all try and smash him at once because it will open up opportunities for others. The All Blacks don’t need a second invitation to take advantage.”
No 8: Ben Morgan (25, 20 caps) v Jerome Kaino (31, 48 caps)
“Ben Morgan has done well in an England shirt. I remember they faltered against Wales at the Millennium Stadium when they didn’t have his go forward. What I like about his battle with Billy (Vunipola) is that they’ve both taken up the mantle of wanting to better themselves. Ben has had to bide his time with the emergence of Billy but when he was injured in this Six Nations, he did admirably. When England have a ball-carrying No 8, who makes the gainline, they tend to do better.
“Jerome Kaino hasn’t been in an All Black shirt since the 2011 World Cup because he’s been in Japan but he brings physicality, strong work at the breakdown and having the ball in hand. England can take advantage if they get the nudge on at the scrum. It’ll be interesting to know how comfortable Kaino is low-down with the ball at his feet. We all know Kieran Read has good hands at close-quarters, but can Kaino could be pressured. The job for the England pack is to make it difficult at the back of the scrum. I guess looking at the bigger picture, it’s no bad thing for Steve Hansen to see what they have behind Read with his leadership qualities. If McCaw has to leave the field tomorrow, it will be interesting to see if either he, or Liam Messam takes responsibilty.”
Blindside: James Haskell (29, 50 caps) v Liam Messam (30, 29 caps)
“James will be wanting to prove he can utilise what he learnt with the Highlanders in 2012 under Jamie Joseph when he was more often deployed as an openside, a position he’s been playing a bit with Wasps this season. Hopefully that bit of extra agility that will help. England will primarily use Haskell for his physical edge, front up hits and ball carries. I think six is his best position and others are better at controlling the ball at the base of the scrum.
“Liam Messam has been outstanding in recent years. He hits hard and is a real workhorse. I can’t see an inch being given by either men. As a unit I alway found they focused the breakdown. They have good game intelligence and work together as both as individuals and pairs, so England will have to be wary of their counter-attacking. In not worried, however, the England management will have done their homework. They’ll be ready.”
Richard Hill was speaking on behalf of QBE, the business insurance specialist, official insurance partner of England Rugby. Visit www.qberugby.com