This time Brodie Retallick has his timing spot on. The 31-year-old will play his 100th test on Sunday when the All Blacks take on England for the 43rd time, becoming the 12th All Black to reach the milestone and the second lock, alongside captain Sam Whitelock.
Retallick and Whitelock will also create their own piece of history, starting their 64th test together, nudging past the previous record (63rd) that was held by South Africa’s Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield.
Retallick’s personal milestone might have come two weeks ago in Cardiff, but Retallick was banned for two weeks for a mistimed clean-out at a ruck against Japan. So instead, it will be at Twickenham, the ‘Home of Rugby’, in front of a largely hostile crowd of a touch over 82,000.
There are a lot of magnificent rugby grounds around the world. Australia’s Olympic Stadium in Sydney, Stade de France in Paris, Ellis Park and Loftus Versfeld in South Africa, and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to name a few. But there is something unique about Twickenham, an old cabbage patch that the RFU bought in 1907 and was used for cattle, horse and sheep grazing during the first World War.
The All Blacks have played England there twenty-three times and lost just four, with a draw in 1997. Retallick’s record is equally impressive, with four tests against England at Twickenham for three wins. Overall, he has played them eight times for six wins. When he and England last met at Twickenham it was Retallick who played a leading hand in turning around a 0-15 deficit to see the All Blacks grind out a 16-15 win. They will be happy with any sort of win on Sunday but will be hoping to have a safer margin and to play more expansively than the wet and cold conditions allowed in 2018.
Coach Ian Foster has sprung a couple of surprises in his squad to tackle England, with rookie wing Mark Telea rewarded for his two tries on debut against Scotland last week. He is almost an old-fashioned bolter, having been drafted in as cover before the Japan test when Leicester Fainga’anuku had to travel home for family reasons, and later kept on when Will Jordan was ruled out for the tests in the United Kingdom with an inner ear issue.
And TJ Perenara continues his late renaissance. Not wanted for the Ireland Series or Rugby Championship, he was initially named in the All Blacks XV squad to play Ireland A and the Barbarians.
He was called in for the Scotland game and played well enough off the bench to earn another spot there for this final test of the year. His 79 caps add to an already experienced bench, who average 35 tests among the eight.
And the starting XV oozes experience and is, to most eyes, the top XV, though Samisoni Taukei’aho is again on the bench behind Codie Taylor.
It seems odd not to start the human wrecking ball who, along with Ardie Savea, has been the All Blacks’ best player this year, but bringing him on against tiring Englishmen could be a masterstroke. This is a significant test for Dalton Papali’I, who starts at openside. One of Sam Cane’s many strengths is his work in tight tests against big packs. That is what the All Blacks face in England and while Papali’i is superb with the ball, he will need to show, as he did against Scotland, that he can be effective at the breakdown and on defence. If he plays well, and backs it up with the Blues, Papali’i gives Foster a clear second option at openside heading to the World Cup, especially as Whitelock is a terrific captain.
Jordie Barrett can also end the year with another emphatic statement that he, and he alone, is the first choice at second five.
Lock Scott Barrett is at blindside, where he was when the All Blacks last played England - the shocking semi-final loss at the 2019 World Cup in Japan. England coach Eddie Jones has matched that by naming two specialist No8s Billy Vunipola and Sam Simmonds, along with openside Tom Curry. Jones said the selections were “a bit horses for courses against New Zealand”.
“Traditionally if you look at the history of the game, New Zealand’s strength is their back row.
“Their most talismanic players have always been their back rows. Look at Graham Mourie, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Wayne Shelford, Zinzan Brooke. We feel that battle is going to be quite important in the game.
“Sam gives us a little bit more mobility and a little bit more contest at the breakdown, which again is going to be important.
“Billy’s job is to get us over the gain line. If you can get over the gain line against New Zealand, you can present problems for their defence and Billy has the opportunity to do that.”
Barrett’s selection at blindside in Yokohama didn’t work but it’s not what cost the All Blacks that day. They played poorly, collectively, and none more so than three of their best players - Kieran Read, Retallick and Whitelock. Every player can have an off day, but it was uniquely calamitous that those three all had an off day in the same match, as the England pack ran over the All Blacks. Whitelock and Retallick get a chance to atone for that, as the All Blacks look to finish a rather tumultuous year on a high.
There is a lot to forget this year but winning at Twickenham is always worth remembering.
All Blacks team to play England:
1. Ethan de Groot, 2. Codie Taylor, 3. Tyrel Lomax, 4. Brodie Retallick, 5. Sam Whitelock (c), 6. Scott Barrett, 7. Dalton Papali’i, 8. Ardie Savea, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Richie Mo’unga, 11. Caleb Clarke, 12. Jordie Barrett, 13. Rieko Ioane, 14. Mark Telea, 15. Beauden Barrett.
Reserves: 16. Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17. George Bower, 18. Nepo Laulala, 19. Shannon Frizell, 20. Hoskins Sotutu, 21. TJ Perenara, 22. David Havili, 23. Anton Lienert-Brown.