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All blacks must ‘be at the front’ of England’s home tests, Savea warns

WELLINGTON – The All Blacks must ‘tune up’ the firepower of England’s attackers to avoid a repeat of their shock defeat in 2019, Ardie Savea warned on Wednesday ahead of the two-Test home series.

New Zealand will play their first match of the year when they host England in Dunedin on July 6, before the teams meet again the following Saturday at Auckland’s Eden Park.

The All Blacks have not beaten the touring visitors since 2018.

England forced them to a 25-all draw when the teams met at Twickenham in 2022, three years after beating New Zealand 19-7 in the semi-finals of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, when Savea’s only try Blacks scored against English.

“We understand what they bring and if we can’t match or lead the way, it’s going to be a long day,” the loose forward told reporters.

“That happened in 2019. We got hit in the nose and couldn’t recover.”

The All Blacks have not played since losing the World Cup final 12-11 to South Africa in October, while England are fresh off a 52-17 defeat to Japan in Tokyo last weekend.

The New Zealand squad gathered near Wellington on Wednesday to begin preparations under new head coach Scott Robertson.

Savea, voted world player of 2023, has played one match for his Wellington club team since his playing sabbatical in Japan ended in May.

He enjoys taking part in All Blacks training in preparation for England.

“The last time we played them we signed, so we have a bit of history,” he said.

“They just played Japan and they’re doing really well. We need to focus on ourselves and make sure we can pull through.”

Savea is wary of England playmaker Marcus Smith, who bagged one of their eight tries with a slick move from a set-play in Tokyo.

“They’re physical, they’re skilled and they let Marcus Smith lead their play,” Savea said.

The All Blacks defense will have to pay special attention to the England fly-half, Savea said.

“His unpredictability is a threat, he is growing into himself in the way he controls the game.”

Like Savea, New Zealand star defender Beauden Barrett has played club rugby in Japan all year. He is ready to play against England together with his two brothers.

Scott Barrett has been named captain of the All Blacks, with center Jordie Barrett as his vice-captain.

The All Blacks have ten days to prepare for their clash with England and Beauden Barrett expects a simple game plan for Robertson’s first match.

“The coaches are really organized and their information presented is layered,” he said.

“We wouldn’t have too elaborate a game plan, so we’ll keep it simple, but whatever we do, next Friday and Saturday we’ll be super clear.

“We obviously still have a lot of work to do between now and then, but we are confident that we will end up in the right place.”