A foot in both camps: Kiwi Premiership stars give their verdict on England v New Zealand
15:21 GMT, 29 November 2012
Ahead of England's final QBE autumn international series fixture against New Zealand at Twickenham this Saturday, Sportsmail caught up with three men in the know to discuss the chances of both sides.
Kiwi trio Jonathan Poff, Bryn Evans and Ben Botica all ply their trade in the Aviva Premiership for London Wasps, London Irish and Harlequins respectively, and as such they have a vast knowledge of the game in both countries.
With the help of Aviva, we managed to track them down in the Turks Head pub in Twickenham to hear their views on the mammoth task that England face against the world champions, while also discussing the wider issues facing English rugby.
Here's how it went…
Pub grub: (left to right) Botica, Evans and Poff share their views ahead of Saturday's game
Name: Jonathan Poff
Club: London Wasps
Position: Openside flanker
Previous clubs: Tasman, Crusaders
Name: Bryn Evans
Club: London Irish
Previous clubs: Hawke's Bay, Blues, Hurricanes
New Zealand caps: 2
Name: Ben Botica
Previous clubs: North Harbour, Perigueux
The All Blacks have beaten Scotland, Italy and Wales so far this autumn, but what have you made of the quality of their performances on tour
Poff: I think they haven't quite hit full throttle yet, but they have definitely shown glimpses of what they can do. To not play particularly well and still record comfortable victories shows just how good they are though.
Evans: There is definitely a bit more in the tank. They have had to switch the team up quite a bit, but the boys coming in have taken their chances and are playing well, they still look full of fitness and full of running and they look like a dangerous side with nothing to lose.
Botica: The scorelines might not reflect it but Scotland tested the All Blacks for a while and so did Italy. They won't be happy with how they have started their games but they have finished them strongly.
Is it the sheer strength in depth that New Zealand possess what sets them apart from other international sides
Evans: The Super Rugby competition creates a platform to bring these young guys in. People that are straight out of school – 18, 19 – have the chance to show what they can do and often they are straight into a Super Rugby contract. So with the competition and the challenges coming up it's great to know that there are a lot of them back home waiting to step in.
Botica: At first receiver (fly-half) it is ridiculous to see how much talent is coming through. You have got Beauden Barrett there and Aaron Cruden stepping into Dan Carter's shoes, which is not an easy task, but they are both playing great rugby and kicking well and doing everything you are supposed to be doing well. The depth of the squad is just amazing.
Evans: In my position at lock you've got guys like Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick all coming through and performing at a level which at their age is pretty special. They can only get stronger from there.
Formidable: The All Blacks have won three from three so far this autumn
Can you see any side being able to challenge New Zealand in the immediate future
Evans: Being based here in the UK you can definitely see that England have the young guys coming through as well and there is a lot of talent there. You have got Joe Launchbury coming through who played at the weekend against South Africa and did well. You have got guys on the bench coming through like my team-mate Jonathan Joseph, so there are exciting players there. If England can keep those players together, get that core and build on that, there is no reason why they can't challenge the All Blacks in years to come.
The All Blacks only select players based in New Zealand, but are the RFU right in insisting that players must play their club rugby in the Premiership if they want to play in England
Poff: South Africa have all their players playing all over the world and it doesn't seem to hurt them, so I think someone like Steffon Armitage, who is playing incredibly well over in France, should have the opportunity to play for England.
Evans: New Zealand have stuck to that policy quite strongly but I suppose it is quite a unique situation for England because you have got France in such close proximity. It could be quite easy to allow it, whereas in New Zealand I can see the problems with trying to get players to travel the length of the world to try and and get them to go back and play. It is definitely something that England need to look at.
High hopes: Evans gathers lineout ball for London Irish as Poff (left) prepares to pounce
What do England need to do to win on Saturday
Botica: England just have to make sure they capitalise on every opportunity they get, which is the same for the All Blacks. The All Blacks are the best side in the world at capitalising on opportunities, that is why they are so good, so England need to do the same. Every time they get a chance they need to turn it into points. When the pressure is on it is the little things that count. England have got to throw caution to the wind and just go for it I reckon. Don't kick away unnecessary ball and don't wait for the All Blacks to make a mistake, because they rarely do. Kicking the ball away is not going to do them any favours so I think they just need to hold on to it and go for it.
Poff: As Ben said, they really need to take their opportunities. They might only get two or three opportunities in the game. Turnover ball is going to be very important in how they use it, whether they kick it away or attack wide and attack the space.
Bryn, in terms of the set-piece, how do you think England are going to fare against the All Blacks
Evans: The scrum has always been a strong area for England. In the Premiership a lot of people pride themselves on the scrum, so I think that is where they will try and have a crack, and obviously they have got to win their lineout ball as well. They have definitely got the players capable of troubling New Zealand in those areas.
Key area: (left to right) Dan Cole, Tom Youngs and Alex Corbisiero will have to be at their best at the scrum
A lot has been said about England not having a natural openside. It is your position Jonathan, would you agree with that sentiment
Poff: The game has changed. You see a lot of teams instead of having experts just having three big guys in the back row. I guess it is down to the coach's preference but every team has got to have scavenger in their team, whether it be starting or on the bench. Modern day loose forwards are usually able to operate in all three positions, but that is one area I am really looking forward to at the weekend, seeing how the No 7 battle turns out around the breakdown and the tackle area.
Is Chris Robshaw a natural openside flanker
Poff: That is where he has been playing and he is strong around the ball and around the tackle area. He is probably one of those forwards who can play any position in the back row, which is a good a card to have in your back pocket as well. If you are a specialist No 7 it obviously helps but personally I think it is good to have players who can play a number of positions.
Robshaw has come under a lot of criticism in recent weeks for his decision-making as captain. Ben, he is your skipper at Harlequins, do you think the public have been a bit harsh on him
Botica: As a captain it is not the easiest thing making those tough decisions. You get help from your team but at the end of the day it is your decision and whatever you say is final. In the pressure moments it can either go one way or the other and unfortunately it didn't quite work out for England on Saturday, but there is no doubt that Chris is a great leader.
Under pressure: Robshaw's decision-making against South Africa was criticised
What needs to change in this country if England are ever to challenge the southern hemisphere sides
Evans: Coming over here it seems to me that a lot of the teams do a lot of the stuff that we do back home as well. I think it is more about developing skill sets, especially in forwards where they can be uncomfortable being caught out wide, they need to be able to use their ball skills. The All Blacks can go through five or six pairs of hands and it doesn't matter what number is on their back, they are all capable of scoring a try in the corner. Growing up in New Zealand, that is what all players try and go out there and do, so it's just about honing those skills from a young age.
Bryn, you have picked up a couple of caps for the All Blacks, do you feel a foot taller when you are wearing that black shirt
Evans: It is special to put on that jersey and it definitely gives you a bit of a lift, but at the end of the day, if you are playing against that team they have still got two arms and two legs, so you have just got to go out there and just play rugby. If you don't have that belief, there is no point taking the field.
Ben, do you think Owen Farrell and Freddie Burns have the ability to challenge the All Blacks and control the game from fly-half
Botica: Definitely. Especially Freddie Burns, his kicking is dead accurate and the way he controls the game is great. He is always taking the line on which is a big thing at international level. Attacking the line and being able to distribute is a great talent, so it will be interesting to see if Freddie gets a go. They will start with Owen, but it would be good to see Freddie get a go from the bench.
Starting role: Owen Farrell (centre) will wear the No 10 jersey on Saturday
What are your predictions for Saturday
Poff: All Blacks by 35.
Evans: All Blacks by 10.
Botica: All Blacks by 25.
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