New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has insisted the All Blacks’ clash with England this weekend is even bigger than last year’s series against the British and Irish Lions.
Saturday’s match will be the first time world champions New Zealand have met England since a 24-21 All Blacks win at Twickenham in 2014 and the long-anticipated fixture has been given added spice ahead of next year’s World Cup in Japan.
The Lions upset the odds to draw a three-match series 1-1, frustrating a New Zealand team and rugby public who have grown up in an environment where anything other than a victory by the All Blacks represents failure.
“I think (the England match is) even bigger actually,” Hansen told reporters at New Zealand’s hotel in London on Thursday.
“I think the Lions tour has made it bigger because we weren’t successful.
“In only drawing the series, that wasn’t successful to us. That’s made this week have a sharper edge to it, which is good.”
He added: “You’ve got to be reasonably stupid if you can’t work out this is going to be big.
“There’s 80,000 people (in the stadium), it’s all over the papers, everyone’s talking about it, you can’t get a ticket.
“You’d have to be on holiday, I reckon if you didn’t work out that this is going to be big. And we haven’t got anybody on holiday this week.”
England made a superb start under coach Eddie Jones after he signed on in November 2015.
The Australian won his first 17 games in charge as England, who had marked the end of predecessor Stuart Lancaster’s reign with a ‘meaningless’ pool victory over Uruguay as they crashed out of the 2015 World Cup on home soil, equalled the All Blacks’ world record of 18 consecutive wins by a major Test-match nation.
However, England lost five full internationals in a row before seeing off the Springboks in the third and final Test in South Africa in June.
And England were far from convincing when launching their November campaign with a 12-11 win over South Africa at Twickenham last weekend.
England last beat New Zealand in November 2012 when they ran out 38-21 winners at Twickenham.
But Hansen, a former assistant coach at Wales, says recent England setbacks will mean nothing come Saturday.
“I don’t know who’s writing them (England) off, it would be foolish to do that,” said Hansen. “But does it put pressure on us? No.
“There’s already pressure on us, the one constant thing about being in the All Blacks is you’re under pressure because you’re expected to win every Test match you play and not only win it, win it really, really well.
“It does at times give you an advantage because when other teams get put under pressure of having to win big games, they haven’t experienced that as much as maybe we have.”
Hansen has picked his strongest-available team, with prop Karl Tu’inukuafe replacing the luckless Joe Moody, who suffered a cut eye in training.
Meanwhile, Jack Goodhue, recovered from a bout of glandular fever, will partner Sonny Bill Williams in midfield.
The All Blacks will again be captained by No 8 Kieran Read, with Beauden Barrett looking to pull the strings at fly-half.
There is bound to be plenty of attention on Williams following his red card during the second Test against the Lions, a dismissal that helped the tourists level the series.
Hansen insisted the centre did not carry any scars from being sent-off, saying: “He doesn’t have any demons and he hasn’t got any devils or anything running around in his head
“But if you were asking me was he disappointed, yes he was, obviously.
“He did a shoulder-charge that hit someone in the chops and he got red-carded and rightly so.”
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits by Marisa Kennedy)