BAGSHOT, November 3 – England believe defence may be the best form of attack as they prepare to stifle the free-scoring All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday after the New Zealanders' record-breaking southern hemisphere season.The All Blacks romped to this year’s Tri-Nations crown at a canter, completing an unprecedented clean sweep of victories while racking up a record haul of both tries (22) and points (184).
A statistical analysis of the Tri-Nations released by the International Rugby Board on Monday said the competition may represent a "seminal moment" in the history of rugby as teams emphasise attack over defence.
The IRB report found that a total of 52 tries were scored in nine Tri-Nations matches this year at an average of 5.8 per game, nearly double the 27 tries scored in 2009 at an average of three per game.
The change in the way the breakdown is refereed has encouraged teams to keep the ball in play, with significantly more passes and fewer kicks per game.
Yet the winds of attacking change blowing through rugby have left England defence coach Mike Ford distinctly unruffled as he prepares for Saturday’s showdown with the All Blacks at Twickenham.
"I think there were three games in the Tri-Nations that produced an average of 77 points," Ford told journalists at England’s training base. "I don’t know what everyone else thinks, but that for me is not Test rugby."
While acknowledging last weekend’s thrilling Bledisloe Cup encounter between Australia and New Zealand in Hong Kong was "a fantastic game," Ford noted "there was still 50 points scored."
Twickenham on Saturday promises to be a throwback to a leaner, meaner era, Ford said. "We want to make this a good old-fashioned Test rugby game," he said. "Whatever you think that means, we know what it means. But we’re pretty confident of what we can do defensively."
Even so, history is not on England’s side. England have leaked an average of 32.5 points per game against Southern Hemisphere opposition during Ford’s reign yet the coach insists his team have the ability to stifle the All Blacks.
"We’re pretty comfortable where we’re sitting defensively at the moment," Ford said. "We know we have to up the ante obviously because we’re playing the best in the world.
Ford said England’s squad were "miles in front" of where they had been at the same stage last year, and had benefited from a harder-nosed shift in the way that defensive duties were viewed.
"Our mentality has changed defensively with the ‘no excuse’ mentality. It’s not a case of ‘They’ve just scored one try, so we’ll go back and score one or two. Everybody is talking about how many tries have been scored, how quick the rucks are, and how exciting it is.
"Defensively we have got to figure out a way to stop that. And we’re pretty confident that we can.
"The players know that when we haven’t got the ball Saturday, we’re going to endeavour to produce one of the best defensive performances ever."
Key to England’s gameplan would be stopping fly-half Dan Carter and captain Richie McCaw, described by Ford as the All Blacks’ talisman.
"You don’t need rocket science to know that if we can negate his strengths and put him under pressure then there’s a big part of their game gone," Ford said. "There’s no special plan for McCaw in terms of defence.
"Obviously he’s going to try and get his hands on the ball and create havoc there. Like every other team we’ll have a plan for that. But Australia showed that if you can get that right then you can gain a lot of advantages there.
"If we can put him under pressure and show that he has got weaknesses it’ll go a long way towards us winning the game."