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New Zealand vs England: England aim for historic series win against All Blacks

When England last toured New Zealand ten years ago, the All Blacks were the leaders of the rugby world.

After winning the 2011 World Championship, Steve Hansen's team went on an extraordinary run that culminated in 2015 with a second consecutive title.

A new generation of future All Black stars was emerging, while all-time greats such as Richie McCaw and Dan Carter were still at their best.

Even without the injured Carter, and despite the strong performance of the English in the first two Tests, the All Blacks ultimately secured a 3-0 victory in the series, cementing their status as the dominant rugby nation in the world.

In 2024, things will be different. South Africa and France have gained a head start – the Springboks on the field and the French off it. The Japanese league has persuaded some great All Blacks to take international sabbaticals or retire internationally. Covid has taken its toll.

“It’s been a tough few years, there’s no doubt about that,” said Mark Robinson, head of New Zealand Rugby Union.

The Henry-Hansen-Ian Foster line, which led the All Blacks for twenty years, has been disbanded. The helm is now taken by popular former winger Scott Robertson (49), who led the Crusaders to a remarkable seven consecutive Super Rugby titles.

“He spent a tremendous amount of time developing his craft,” Robinson said.

“He thought long and hard about the role. It feels like his time has come.”

But despite the excitement surrounding the Robertson era, the otherwise optimistic New Zealand rugby audience is a little nervous.

The All Blacks have not played a game since losing the World Cup final last October and a number of key players, including centre-backs Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, scrum-half Aaron Smith and link-up Richie Mo'unga, are unavailable.

With Sam Cane stepping down as captain, Scott Barrett will lead the team from the second row for the first time, while Damian McKenzie starts as link-up.

“There is uncertainty about how this team will come together,” said Liam Napier of the New Zealand Herald.

“I look at the New Zealand team and there are so many unknowns,” agreed former England scrum-half Danny Care.

“They don't have the players you fear anymore. They have players you respect a lot, but do you literally go there with fear as a team? I don't think New Zealand have that at the moment.”

“This is a huge opportunity for England to go there and shock the New Zealand world.”