By John Davidson, (RLP RLWC Correspondent) Date: 20/11/13
England are hoping the benefit of home advantage and a full crowd behind them will help topple New Zealand on Saturday.
New Zealand has been very impressive in this World Cup. Four games, four wins, four 40 point-plus scorelines and only 38 points conceded in total, that is some effort.
The Kiwis are hell-bent on retaining the trophy they so memorably captured at the last World Cup. In that tournament they were too good for England twice. In this one, on English not Australian soil, they are arguably a better team than they.
Sure they are without Benji Marshall, a talisman five years ago, but on his 2013 form he would have struggled to cement a spot in this squad. Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson are forming a great partnership, Isaac Luke is better player then he was back then and New Zealand have a number of young stars breaking through. They also have one Sonny Bill Williams.
Stephen Kearney is a much more experienced, battle-hardened coach then he was in 2008 and alongside him he has an extremely capable and talented assistant in Ivan Cleary.
The Kiwis desperately want to prove that 2008 was no fluke. On their current form they should be too strong for England.
But the English are also a more balanced squad than they were in the last tournament. The emergence of Sam Burgess and brothers, the arrival of Sam Tomkins, Josh Charnley and others has given them more world-class players to utilise. Their unit has more NRL experience and has been together for some time.
The Rugby Football League has spent a lot of time and money getting England to this point.
They will also have a near packed Wembley, perhaps around 60,000 of 70,000 fans, screaming and willing them on. The English put a lot of faith in the spiritual aspect of Wembley, how this famous stadium can will the national team on to great achievements, and this will be the hope on November 23.
However, the issue with England is not one of talent or ability, but one of belief. Do they really believe they can match and better New Zealand over 80 minutes?
In the first game of this World Cup they matched Australia for large parts of that game, but fell away for 10 minutes and the Kangaroos capitalised. The chance was gone.
It is the same against New Zealand. Give them an opening; drop your concentration for a minute or two, and they will strike.
This has been the story of England’s World Cup so far. The dropping away after such a bright start against the Aussies. The quiet second half against the Irish. The terrible first half and then good comeback against Fiji. An awful opening first few minutes against the French.
England has yet to string a great 80 minutes together, let alone 60 or 70. They will need to be much, much better against New Zealand.
You could argue that the Kiwis have yet to deliver a complete performance in this World Cup either, and that is correct, in part.
But the men in black have blitzed their opponents early and then taken the foot off the gas. They have not fallen behind in any games and have a shown a ruthless when the mood strikes.
England has flattered to deceive. They certainly do have the ability to beat New Zealand on Saturday, but whether all 17 players can string it together on the day and get their defence working to an extent where it repeals the foreboding Kiwi attack, that is the real question.
I believe England will put up a great fight at Wembley and surprise most. They’ll throw everything at New Zealand and not shirk an inch.
But the Kiwis will secure a victory by six points or less.
A rematch from 2008 awaits New Zealand and Australia. A Trans-Tasman clash finally deciding who is the best rugby league country in the world should take place at Old Trafford.