There have been fewer swirls of anti-All Blacks rhetoric this time, as Lancaster's squad – heavily depleted by injury, shorn of around 10 front-line players – will go in to the match ring rusty against opponents who are very much in their groove.
On the back of yet another Rugby Championship title, last weekend they crossed for 12 tries in their 74-6 trouncing of America in Chicago. While the US team are not regarded as a top-tier country in rugby terms, there is an ominous feeling at HQ that the England XV, with Lancaster's hand forced, will be put to the sword by the tourists.
Yes, there are mitigating circumstances, but it doesn't look promising for England, who were white- – or rather black-washed – by New Zealand on the summer tour (across the three Tests the aggregate score was 84-55). For all the jingoism and attempts to pop the All Blacks' bubble, use your head rather than just your heart and consider the raw matchup stats for the starting XVs.
The teams are as follows:
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care; 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett,
The 15 All Blacks are – surprise, surprise – vastly experienced, with 759 caps between them before Saturday's game. That figure is over twice as many as England's XV, who have 359. New Zealand captain Richie McCaw has amassed 134 caps himself (seven behind retired record-holder Brian O'Driscoll, who played eight times for the British and Irish Lions), which is more than England's backrow and locks combined (112). On average the tourists have 50.6 caps whereas England have just 23.9.
Additionally, the New Zealand side beginning the game this weekend have won 672 Tests collectively (which is win percentage of 88.5), and England's have a total of 211 (just 58.8 per cent).
"But the All Blacks are all old warriors, and in decline, " you might contest. Not true: only three starters on Saturday is over the age of 30 (Wyatt Crockett, Jerome Kaino and McCaw). Indeed, their average age of their starting XV is 27.5, compared to England's 26.1.
Since the last World Cup Hansen has featured just 55 players, which is the fewest used by any top-tier rugby side. Lancaster has selected 63 players, by contrast, and will add debutant Semesa Rokoduguni to that list on Saturday. So the All Blacks have been able to gain experience and strengthen their already tight core with their head coach showing loyalty, and thanks, in part, to mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka’s ‘no-d***heads policy’.
Furthermore, since the end of 2011, New Zealand have scored more points per game, 31.5 on average, and conceded just 15.9, than any other country in the world (in the same time frame England’s tally is 24 and 17.4 respectively, third behind South Africa).
Below are the statistics, focusing on the two starting teams for Saturday's match, in full.
They make for difficult reading for England fans, especially those wanting to demystify the formidable All Blacks aura this time around. They may be "just human" but they are incredible, experienced and glitteringly successful rugby-playing humans. Fortress Twickenham could be forced to rebuild come Sunday morning.
|Number of caps
|Average number of caps
|Average age of players