Record beckons for NZ
The All Blacks aim to make history when they take on England in the third Test in Hamilton on Saturday.
LONDON - The All Blacks have the opportunity to not only equal a record for successive test victories in the third and final match of their series against England in Hamilton on Saturday but also to send an emphatic message to their World Cup challengers.
Steve Hansen's side have won their last 16 internationals and stand one victory away from equalling the record amongst Tier One Nations jointly held by the 1965-69 All Blacks and the 1997-98 South African teams.
Twice in the past four years the team have been on the cusp of equalling that mark only to be held to a 18-18 draw by Australia in 2012, ending a 16-game winning streak, while the Wallabies also ended a 15-game winning run in 2010 with a 26-24 victory.
The All Blacks sent conflicting messages earlier this week about whether the team was focussing on the goal with Hansen playing it down, while hooker Keven Mealamu stated he believed it would play some part in their preparations.
Hansen and assistant coach Ian Foster have since reiterated if the All Blacks get their performance right at Waikato Stadium the result, and record, will take care of itself.
As such there was little surprise in Hansen's selections for the game that kicks off at 9:35am SAT on Saturday, bringing back number eight Kieran Read and giving the exciting rookie Malakai Fekitoa a start at centre in place of the injured Conrad Smith.
Jerome Kaino has moved to the blindside of the scrum to accommodate Read's return from concussion though the rest of the team was otherwise unchanged from that who sealed the series with a 28-27 victory in Dunedin, despite the obvious temptation to give the in-form Beauden Barrett a start at flyhalf.
The All Blacks want to build on their blistering third quarter at Dunedin, where they scored three unanswered tries, to not only achieve the series victory but to send England homeward to think again ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
England coach Stuart Lancaster after all has made no secret he is building a side for the global showpiece they host and the series against the All Blacks would allow him to benchmark his team and their progress.
The side have impressed with their combative nature and their willingness to use the ball and develop a wide game plan, if they may not quite have achieved what they set out to do.
There is a paucity of true ball handlers amongst his tight five, while his big loose forwards do not have the same skill level of their All Blacks counterparts.
When the All Blacks also upped the tempo last week in Dunedin, England failed to stay with them.
Lancaster has also been forced to chop and change his selections throughout the series due to the late arrival of 16 players following the English club final, ensuring he never had the chance to truly cement, or settle on a top combination.
He made wholesale changes for Saturday, recognising that Manu Tuilagi was not an international winger and reunited him with Kyle Eastmond in the centres after the former rugby league player was not considered for the second match in Dunedin.
Eastmond proved an effective foil to Tuilagi's bullocking style in the first test at Eden Park and offers a point of difference from the bigger centres Lancaster has preferred.
Lancaster also reunited his Eden Park halves pairing of Freddie Burns and Ben Youngs after injury forced Owen Farrell and Danny Care out of contention, though Youngs and Burns proved in Auckland they were more than capable of controlling a match.
He also added some explosive bulk to his pack with Billy Vunipola shifting off the bench to start at number eight with the athletic Courtney Lawes joining Geoff Parling in the second row and New Zealand-born hooker Dylan Hartley also starting.
New Zealand: 15-Ben Smith, 14-Cory Jane, 13-Malakai Fekitoa, 12-Ma'a Nonu, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Aaron Cruden, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read, 7-Richie McCaw (captain), 6-Jerome Kaino, 5-Samuel Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Charlie Faumuina, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Liam Messam, 21-TJ Perenara 22-Beauden Barrett, 23-Ryan Crotty
England: 15-Mike Brown, 14-Chris Ashton, 13-Manu Tuilagi, 12-Kyle Eastmond, 11-Marland Yarde, 10-Freddie Burns, 9-Ben Youngs; 8-Billy Vunipola, 7-Chris Robshaw (captain), 6-Tom Wood, 5-Geoff Parling, 4-Courtney Lawes, 3-David Wilson, 2-Dylan Hartley, 1-Joe Marler
Replacements: 16-Rob Webber, 17-Matt Mullan, 18-Kieran Brookes, 19-Joe Launchbury, 20-Ben Morgan, 21-Lee Dickson, 22-Danny Cipriani, 23-Luther Burrell