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Big match preview

By John Birch

This months Black Fern tour of England promises to be a game played as hard between the minds of the coaching teams off the field as it will be the players on it.

In theory these are only friendly games just warm-ups to the World Cup next season. If this had been two different teams you would have expected both sides to have used the games to try out a few new combinations, blood some new players, and generally experiment a little. But this can be seen as the dress rehearsal for the World Cup Final and the winner of this series will take a huge psychological advantage into next years event.

In many respects New Zealand have the most to lose. Undefeated since 1991 they cannot give anyone the impression that there is so much as a chink in their impenetrable armour. You sesne that only a 2-0 win the test series, plus a comfortable win in the A international, will do. They will not want to put a foot wrong. Whereas England can almost afford to lose a game - a 1-1 draw would be a triumph, ending the Black Ferns 23 game unbeaten record would be a huge blow to the visitors especially as these will be the first games in charge for the new Black Fern coach Brian Evans.

Street could have kept his powder dry in the opening game he could have given a few of his newer players a chance to show what they are worth at Esher before the big, high profile finale at Twickenham. But he hasnt. Street has named his strongest possible team for the first test, and so far ahead that you can only conclude that it is an attempt to put his opposite number under pressure. Evans with five uncapped players in his party might have been wanting to give the new players a run out at the start. Can he afford to do that now can he take the risk?

On the other hand, each coach may also be wanting to avoid showing his full hand yet. Would it be better to keep their opponents guessing? New Zealands isolation between World Cups could be seen as a weakness but is it also a strength? Many of the names in the squad are just that names. No one at this end of the world has seen them play whereas lots have seen England and everyone knows who the main players are, and what they are capable of.