With both England and the All Blacks recording impressive 3-0 series wins in their respective summer tours, many rugby fans have been speculating what would happen if schedules changed and the two top sides in the world met later this year.
We decided to examine the potential head-to-head player match ups, delve into form and stats and see which of the two sides might come out on top.
15. Mike Brown v Israel Dagg (Winner: Israel Dagg)
It takes some player in especially rare form to dislodge Ben Smith at full-back but Israel Dagg, the 2016 version, is that player with electric pace, booming punts as well as shrewd strategy and timing. Mike Brown has been his usual fiery self. Defensively sound, he ran 43 metres and scored a crucial try in the third Test but in two games Dagg’s 336 metres, two tries and plenty of assists easily wins this battle.
14. Anthony Watson vs Ben Smith (Winner: Ben Smith)
Watson showed his pace and the growing array of skills (chip kicks) in his repertoire in recent weeks but was quiet in the first two Tests. Ben Smith, in contrast, might be the world’s best back right now, and he is certainly the most versatile. Two tries, a devastating partnership with Dagg on counterattack and a staggering 300 running metres over the three Test series. That’s exceptional consistency.
13. Jonathan Joseph vs Malakai Fekitoa (Winner: Jonathan Joseph)
Joseph wins this lukewarm battle on the back of his first Test showing. Fekitoa was useful without standing out in the first Test against Wales and then got a head injury in the second game, which limited his involvement. Both players were defensively sound.
12. Owen Farrell vs Ryan Crotty (Winner: Owen Farrell)
While Farrell didn’t feature much with the ball in hand, his foot to ball work was immaculate and he scored an incredible 66 points in the series. Crotty, for his part, was consistent but didn’t have the match-winning influence of Farrell.
11. Jack Nowell vs Waisake Naholo (Winner: Waisake Naholo)
Naholo is an all-or-nothing type player whereas Nowell relies on grit and bustle. Naholo’s effort in the first Test shows his enigmatic potential: 198 metres run, two tries, nine defenders beaten, five clean breaks but four turnovers conceded. Nowell scored a couple of clutch tries and his error rate was low, but we’ll plump for the excitement machine from the deep south on this occasion.
10. George Ford vs Beauden Barrett (Winner: Beauden Barrett)
George Ford’s try assists off the bench in the first Test propelled him back into the starting line-up but while he was tactically tidy in the 3rd Test, he didn’t come close to the MVP impact of Beauden Barrett throughout the series against Wales. Barrett’s electric pace and assured kicking may have cemented his place in the starting 10 jersey for the AB’s. Two tries, 86 running metres and and 26 points was a classy finish to the series.
9. Ben Youngs vs Aaron Smith (Winner: Aaron Smith)
Ben Youngs made some incisive darts and breaks during the series, but Aaron Smith’s speed around the park, tactical nous and incredible bullet passes win the day here.
8. Billy Vunipola vs Kieran Read (Winner: Kieran Read)
Vunipola made serious yardage off the back of the English scrum but was prone to a few missed tackles and poor ball security. Kieran Read was super consistent, making strong yards, intelligent offloads, dominant tackles and valuable line out catching.
7. James Haskell vs Sam Kane (Winner: James Haskell)
A revitalised Haskell was Man of the Match in Brisbane before a foot injury curtailed his involvement in the rest of the series. Sam Kane was industrious without dominating the breakdown like his famous predecessor wearing the black no.7.
6. Chris Robshaw vs Jerome Kaino (Winner: Chris Robshaw)
Robshaw was also instrumental in bullying the breakdown areas and putting pressure on the Wallaby backs. Kaino, for his part, had a solid two tests, without exerting the physical dominance of previous seasons.
5. George Kruis vs Sam Whitelock (Winner: George Kruis)
A difficult choice but Kruis had more influence around the field and the line out than Whitelock. In fact, Michael Hooper may have a few black and blue reminders of Kruis control.
4. Maro Itoje vs Brodie Retallick (Winner: Brodie Retallick)
There was some huge and justified hype about Itoje after the RBS 6 Nations, but he didn’t have much running impact around the field other than his towering presence in the line out and clearing out defenders. Three carries for one metre gained in the third Test and just eight running metres gained over the three Tests indicates he’s not quite the world-beating finished article yet. Brodie Retallick carried 30 times for 66 metres over three Tests in comparison.
3. Dan Cole vs Owen Franks (Winner: Dan Cole)
Cole scored an important early try in the third Test and was an important part of the English juggernaut pack. Franks tackled strongly but didn’t feature much beyond the dark acts of the scrum.
2. Dylan Hartley vs Dane Coles (Winner: Dane Coles)
Many would argue that Hartley should shade this matchup on account of his inspirational captaincy but Coles is faster, more skilled, scores tries from midfield – in additional to fulfilling all his core hooker duties.
1. Mako Vunipola vs Joe Moody (Winner: Marko Vunipola)
One storming run in the final test, solid scrummaging and strong involvement hands this matchup to Marko over Moody. Moody played in all three Tests, and had one memorable scrummaging moment when he popped up the head of his Welsh opponent.
Total: England: 7 All Blacks: 8
Plenty of tight calls but if these two powerhouses of rugby union were to meet any time soon, our matchup analysis suggests the World Champions would shade it. Just.
(stats via nzherald.co.nz)
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena