All Blacks fans uncertain as the Robertson era begins, England confident ahead of 1st test

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — After waiting almost 17 months, New Zealanders will finally get to see what All Blacks rugby looks like under new head coach Scott Robertson when New Zealand takes on England in the first of two tests at Dunedin on Saturday.

Robertson was appointed in March of last year to succeed Ian Foster as head coach but had to wait until after the 2023 World Cup final in October — in which New Zealand lost by one point to South Africa — to take up his post.

During his long regency, Robertson has had time to deeply consider how he will go about things and on Thursday he unveiled his first All Blacks team to give early notice of his intentions. He has come up with a form selection, showing no special allegiance to the Christchurch-based Crusaders who he led to seven Super Rugby titles.

Through that period in which the Crusaders dominated domestic rugby, fans had a chance to assess how Robertson operates as a coach, how teams under him play, what might be his style.

His laid back demeanor hides an astute rugby brain and competitive nature. He may not be an outstanding technical coach but he has the ability to assemble and use assistants with technical skills. His talent is to empower players individually to develop their own talents and teams to work exceptionally well in concert.

“You’ve got to enjoy it. That’s one thing I’ve been able to do throughout my career,” Robertson said. “You’ve got to be able to enjoy the energy that’s created with the people and with Kiwis getting behind it.”

This weekend the venue is in New Zealand’s south island.

“It’s Dunedin, the bottom of the south (island), the bottom of the world really in test terms,” he said. “You’ve got to enjoy it.”

There is considerable anticipation and apprehension among All Blacks fans over Saturday’s match, an uncertainty over what a new era might hold. But one thing is certain, Robertson knows how to win; his teams are flexible, adaptive and able to find a way in the most difficult circumstances.

Optimistic England

England is becoming a very strong and skillful side under head coach Steve Borthwick, who also is at an early stage of his career in charge of an international team. Borthwick also has learned the knack of bringing the best out of players and England has been on a steady upward curve under his guidance.

England has been unashamedly confident about its prospects on Saturday while New Zealanders have been diffident. Captain Jamie George says England is ready to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time in 21 years, based on their most recent results against the All Blacks — a win and a draw — and the example of the 2017 British and Irish Lions who drew their three-test series in New Zealand.

“The message then was that by the end of that series they are going to know who we are. That is certainly the message again from me and this England team,” George said. “Walk towards it, embrace it, love it. What an amazing opportunity we have got here. It was 2003 the last time England won here.

“We were at a charity dinner before we left and they were asking Steve Borthwick about being on that tour. I said to the boys: ‘We’ve got an opportunity to do something really special so that in 20 years’ time they are going to be asking us about the victory.’”

England drew with New Zealand when the teams last met at Twickenham in 2022 and beat the All Blacks in the semifinals of the 2019 World Cup, matches from which George draws inspiration. Most recently, England beat Japan 52-13 in Tokyo.

“We’re as well prepared as we ever have been in terms of trying to make players who haven’t played against New Zealand aware of what it’s about,” George said. “Looking back to 2019 that’s one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of.

“Sometimes with special occasions like that it allows you to go to a place you never thought you were capable of going. We’re going to need to go to some dark places to get a win in Dunedin.”


AP rugby:

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