Sole England defeat gnaws at serial winner Brodie Retallick

No player in test rugby has a better win ratio than the All Black – which is why he remembers the rare losses.

TOKYO, 22 Oct – England coach Eddie Jones began World Cup semi-final week by hailing the All Blacks as "the greatest team that has ever been in sport" – and when he looks at the record of his own side against them, he can find some statistics to back up his assertion.

Since England won Rugby World Cup 2003 (against an Australia side coached by Jones himself), they have played New Zealand on 16 occasions and, remarkably, have won just one – a staggeringly one-sided tale considering the strength of these two rugby nations.

Yet going into Saturday's much-anticipated semi-final in Yokohama, you will not find any New Zealander falling for Jones's nice line in flattery about the All Blacks, nor reading any significance into their recent domination.

Take Brodie Retallick. Of the current All Blacks, he is the ultimate in serial winners, a second-row who has lost just four times in 79 tests – a win ratio of 92.40 per cent that is superior to any current player with more than 20 internationals – and has earned six triumphs over England.

Yet it says everything about Retallick's mentality and that of his side that the one game which stands out most for him is that sole loss to Stuart Lancaster's men at Twickenham, a 38-21 defeat in 2012, pictured top.

"I remember the loss pretty well," said Chiefs star Retallick, who had been unbeaten in his first 12 tests until he ran into a rampant Manu Tuilagi-inspired England that day.

"The one thing that stands out from that game is the physicality they turned up with. Strong ball carries and the physicality at ruck-time was huge. Who turns up up front and wins that physical battle generally comes out on top. I'm guessing it will happen again this weekend."

Centre Tuilagi being unleashed again behind a new breed of power forwards should test Retallick's side in a way no team has come close to achieving so far at RWC 2019.

Asked if this was potentially one of the great England sides, Retallick said: "I'm not going to call them the greatest. I probably haven't watched enough of England in years gone by to say that. But I know they are a very good team with great attacking assets across the park and a mobile tight-five who are scoring tries from 25 metres out."

Although New Zealand have won the last six matches between the sides, they have played only once in the past five years, with the All Blacks coming from 15 points down to win 16-15. It was a result which could have easily gone the other way had Sam Underhill's late try not been controversially ruled out. Retallick recalled it as an afternoon that his side overcame a "massive test".

England's test has just been made harder by Retallick's imperious return to form after recovering from his shoulder dislocation suffered against South Africa 12 weeks ago.

"It's good to have him back," said his team-mate Sam Cane. "Incredible, really, that he goes 60 minutes like that (against Ireland) on Saturday after having played only 30 minutes against Namibia. He dominates the middle of the park." 

Against England, he wants to dominate for 80 minutes as the All Blacks seek to emulate their Jonah Lomu-inspired semi-final triumph in Cape Town in 1995, the only other occasions the teams have met in a World Cup knockout stage.

"I've never seen the 1995 match," said Retallick, to some amazement from New Zealand journalists, "but I'll be doing everything in my power to come out on top."

The All Blacks trust that, as usual, he will.

Brodie Retallick - Rugby’s serial winner

Test record - Played 79, Won 71, Lost 4, Drawn 4. Win percentage - 92.40 per cent.
(Only losses - to England 2012, Australia 2015, British and Irish Lions 2017, Ireland 2018)

Test record v England - Played 7, Won 6, Lost 1

10 November, 2018 (Twickenham) Won 16-15
8 November, 2014 (Twickenham) Won 24-21
21 June 2014 (Hamilton) Won 36-13
14 June, 2014 (Dunedin) Won 28-27
7 June, 2014 (Auckland) Won 20-15
16 November, 2013 (Twickenham) Won 30-22
1 December, 2012 (Twickenham) Lost 21-38

RNS ic/rm/sw