The Freddie Steward v Beauden Barrett full-back battle may prove decisive | Ugo Monye

The No 15s for England and New Zealand offer contrasting but important skills and can make the difference at Twickenham

There are mouthwatering matchups all over the pitch at Twickenham on Saturday but the contest that most catches my eye is between the two full-backs. Freddie Steward, England’s Mr Reliable, against one of the All Blacks’ most lethal weapons in Beauden Barrett. Two completely different players but both are integral to their teams this on Saturday.

Steward has looked comfortable at full-back for England since his very first cap. He has 15 now and I can honestly say he has not had a bad performance for the national side. The baseline requirements for a full-back are positional sense, providing security at the back, being solid in the air, on the floor and good decision making. Steward produces that for England every single time he appears and, in addition, he contributes to attacking play and scores tries. Security is the most important thing that you want from the spine of your team and he provides it.

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England can set the tone for their next nine months by beating New Zealand

Eddie Jones can set his plans in motion against an All Blacks side eager to avenge defeat in semi-finals of the last World Cup

It really is a sign of our turbulent times that the UK has had more prime ministers in three months than the All Blacks have played England in eight years. Almost as striking is the fact that Britain was firmly in the EU and David Cameron was still in Downing Street when Eddie Jones began his Twickenham tenure. When people question England’s lack of oval-ball consistency it is a clearly relative observation.

Amid the political and economic maelstrom, however, some things never change. The All Blacks still despise losing to England and memories of the sides’ last meeting, in the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup, have not wholly faded. Jones’s team have never performed better than they did that night in Yokohama and it could be argued New Zealand have never entirely recovered either.

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Sam Whitelock: ‘Twickenham still feels like it has a bit of extra spice’

The All Blacks captain reflects on the inspiration found in an old family cigar and how facing South Africa can never be a friendly

There’s an old cigar in Caroline and Braeden Whitelock’s house, wrapped up somewhere safe in a drawer. Their son, Sam, can still remember the way it smelled to him when he was a kid. It was given to his grandad, Nelson Dalzell, as a reward for his man-of-the match performance when the All Blacks beat England 5-0 at Twickenham in 1954. Dalzell scored the only try, when he charged over England wing Ted Woodward. “We didn’t have a lot of stuff from grandad’s playing days,” says Whitelock – the jerseys were all thrown out after Sam’s uncle wore them thin – “but that cigar’s still at home. Mum and Dad always said they would smoke it if one of us became an All Black, but thankfully they never did.”

They had plenty of chances. Sam’s older brother, George, was capped in 2009, and so was his younger brother Luke, in 2013; the fourth, Adam has played for the national sevens side. Sam’s gone on to outstrip all of them, and almost everyone else. He has 142 caps now. Chances are that by this time next year he will be the most-capped All Black in history.

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Richard Cockerill wants Twickenham crowd to drown out New Zealand’s haka

  • ‘We’ll respect it how we want to respect it,’ says Cockerill
  • The England forwards coach confronted the haka in 1997

The England forwards coach, Richard Cockerill, has called on the Twickenham crowd to drown out New Zealand’s haka on Saturday, saying opponents should be allowed to combat the Māori challenge however they want.

Cockerill confronted the haka in 1997 when he squared up to his opposite number Norm Hewitt at Old Trafford, while England lined up in a V-shape formation before their 2019 World Cup semi-final win over the All Blacks in Yokohama. England were fined by World Rugby as a result because some players overstepped the halfway line and France suffered the same fate after a similar response in 2011.

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