Another dominant showing from Ben Smith in Hamilton on Saturday will result in a 3-0 series win for the All Blacks against England, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Smith started on the right wing in Auckland, before replacing an out-of-form Israel Dagg at fullback for the second Test in Dunedin. It was an excellent selection by coach Steve Hansen as Smith produced a Man of the Match performance in his first Test start at 15, making a crucial try-saving tackle on Manu Tuilagi at the end of the first half, scoring the All Blacks' first try early in the second half and creating numerous other scoring opportunities for his team. He was also reliable under the high ball.
No one made more running metres or carries than Smith in Dunedin, and only Ma'a Nonu beat more defenders than him (see stats below). No wonder Hansen has opted to keep the 28-year-old at fullback for the final Test in Hamilton.
The coach has made just two changes to his XV. Conrad Smith's broken thumb sees Malakai Fekitoa making his first start at outside centre, while Kieran Read has recovered from a concussion that has plagued him all season and will start at No 8, with Jerome Kaino moving to blindside flank.
Fekitoa faces an intriguing head to head battle with Tuilagi, who is back at 13 for England after an unsuccessful stint on the wing last week. Tuilagi will be joined in the midfield by Kyle Eastmond, while Ben Youngs and Freddie Burns come in following injuries to halfbacks Danny Care and Owen Farrell.
Coach Stuart Lancaster put first-choice forwards Dylan Hartley (hooker), Courtney Lawes (lock) and Billy Vunipola (No 8) on the bench in Dunedin, with the aim of bringing them on as impact players to ensure England finished the game strongly, but the All Blacks' dominant third-quarter display saw that move backfire. The trio are back in the starting line-up for Saturday's match.
Since beating the All Blacks 15-13 in Wellington, England have lost six in a row to them in New Zealand, but they will have taken great heart from their 20-15 and 28-27 defeats in the past two weeks.
While England will be desperate to make it third time lucky on tour, the All Blacks will be keen to claim a series whitewash and equal the tier-one Test record of 17 successive wins held by the All Blacks (1965-69) and Springboks (1997-98).
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: All Blacks 30, England 7, Drew 1
In New Zealand: All Blacks 12, England 2
SMITH STAT'S THAT MATTER
28 – The number of Test caps he has, including 19 starts
1 – The number of Tests he has started at fullback
127 – The number of running metres he made in the second Test against England, more than any player
19 – The number of carries he made, more than any player
6 – The number of defenders he beat, second only to Ma'a Nonu (eight)
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Luther Burrell.
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images