England represent the devil Steve Hansen doesn’t know, meaning all the cards aren’t stacked in the All Blacks’ favour at Twickenham.
The world champion tourists and third-ranked hosts renew their rivalry on Saturday, five months after New Zealand swept their home rugby series 3-0.
Two tight Tests were followed by a 36-13 blowout in Hamilton against a tired English outfit.
Since then, the All Blacks have played eight Tests while England haven’t played, the sort of comparison that weighs heavily in the favour of coach Hansen’s men.
However, he is not only wary of the fatigue factor near the end of another long season, but also the unexpected.
Hansen says counterpart Stuart Lancaster has had two weeks behind closed doors with England, who may well have tweaked their tactics from the unexpectedly ambitious efforts of June.
“Do they stick with the adventurous game they want to play or do they think: ‘No, we’ll take them on up front’?
“So there’s an advantage there – and they’ve seen what we’ve done since Hamilton.”
The All Blacks are ignoring England’s heavy injury toll, noting that nine players who started in Hamilton will face the haka on Saturday.
New Zealand are vastly more experienced than the hosts, boasting 759 caps to 359, but Hansen says that will count for little if the attitude isn’t right.
There are two Tests this year in which he says they let themselves down mentally – the draw with Australia in Sydney in August and the first 20 minutes of the loss to South Africa in Johannesburg last month.
They won the nine other Tests, but were fortunate to squeak victory over Australia in Brisbane last month before the virtual exhibition win over the United States to start the tour.
Hansen says the Chicago week proved to be good value for revitalising the players before the slog of three Tests in the UK.
Now they have to back their game plan to maintain a record of winning 34 of their last 35 northern hemisphere Tests.
“There’s no doubt our skill sets have got way better and when we execute them well, we’re a hard side to beat.”