England’s ‘massive opportunity’ to shock All Blacks

New Zealand v England first Test

Date: Saturday, 6 July Kick-off: 08:05 BST Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Coverage: Live on Sky Sports, listen to commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds and follow live text commentary on BBC Sport website and app.

When England last toured New Zealand 10 years ago, the All Blacks were on top of the rugby world, writes BBC Sport correspondent Chris Jones.

After winning the World Cup in 2011, Steve Hansen’s side were on an extraordinary run that would culminate in back-to-back glory in 2015.

A new crop of future All Blacks stars were coming through, while all-time greats like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter were still in their prime.

Even without the injured Carter, and despite strong English performances in the first two Tests, the All Blacks eventually secured a 3-0 series win to cement their status as the dominant rugby nation on earth.

The landscape is different in 2024. South Africa and France have stolen a march – the Springboks on the pitch and the French off it. The Japanese league has coaxed some great All Blacks into international sabbaticals or international retirements. Covid took its toll.

“It’s been a few tough years, there is no doubt about that,” said New Zealand Rugby Union boss Mark Robinson.

The Henry-Hansen-Ian Foster lineage – which ran the All Blacks for 20 years – has been broken up, with the popular former flanker Scott Robertson, 49, now at the helm after guiding the Crusaders to a remarkable seven consecutive Super Rugby titles.

“He has spent a huge amount of time developing his craft,” said Robinson.

“He’s thought really deeply about the role for a long time. It feels this is the time for him.”

But despite the excitement around the Robertson era, the New Zealand rugby public – often so bullish – is a little nervous. 

The All Blacks haven’t played a game since losing the World Cup final last October, while a host of key players including locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, scrum-half Aaron Smith and fly-half Richie Mo’unga are no longer available.

With Sam Cane stepping down as captain, second row Scott Barrett will lead the team for the first time, while Damian McKenzie starts at fly-half.

“There is uncertainty about how this team is going to come together,” explained Liam Napier of the New Zealand Herald.

“I look at this New Zealand squad and there are so many unknowns,” agreed former England scrum-half Danny Care.

“They don’t have the players anymore that you fear. They have players you massively respect, but as a team, do you go there literally with fear? I don’t think New Zealand has that at the moment.

“This is a massive opportunity for England to go down there and shock the New Zealand world.”