Fitzpatrick warns of New Zealand backlash

Former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick admits the All Blacks' 1993 defeat to the British Lions ranks as his biggest regret from an international career that spanned 12 years and 92 Tests. [more]

Fitzpatrick warns of New Zealand backlash

Former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick admits the All Blacks’ 1993 defeat to the British Lions ranks as his biggest regret from an international career that spanned 12 years and 92 Tests.

Fitzpatrick was captain that day in Wellington, when the Lions prevailed 20-7 thanks to a Rory Underwood try, four Gavin Hastings penalties and a Rob Andrew drop goal, and while the All Blacks recovered to win the decider 30-13 in Auckland, it still does not sit well with the former hooker.

Indeed, 1993 was not a good year for Fitzpatrick, who also led the New Zealand side that was beaten at Twickenham that November and the All Blacks had to wait 18 months until the 1995 World Cup semi-final for their revenge.

It was certainly served cold however as New Zealand, skippered again by Fitzpatrick, steam-rollered England 45-29 with a 20-year-old Jonah Lomu running in four tries.

And Fitzpatrick is expecting a similar backlash when the All Blacks, hosts of the 2017 British & Irish Lions, return to Twickenham on Saturday, a year after they were defeated 38-21.

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“December 1, 2012 is etched in Richie McCaw’s brain, along with his colleagues from that game,” said Fitzpatrick, speaking at the Sports Journalists' Association Laureus lunch in King's Cross.

“We got beaten up but we’re better for it. Steve Hansen has said we need to be 15 per cent better every time we play and I think that has happened, barring the France game.

“Hopefully that will play on their mind. I never wanted to go back to that in 1993, my biggest fear playing for the All Blacks was fear of failure and these players need to harness that.

“It was the worst game I played for the All Blacks and we’re funny old things Kiwis, we love celebrating success but we remember our losses more than our wins.

“I can still remember going into the changing room after we had lost that game and saying, ‘make a mental note of how you feel and make sure you never feel this way again’.

“And this side will never want to go back to December 1, 2012.

“They will remember everything that happened after the game and that will be in their minds and that’s great because as New Zealanders we expect them to win and as players they expect to win.”

For England – shorn of three British & Irish Lions in Alex Corbisiero, Mako Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi – that is ominous news.

Fitzpatrick however, sees encouragement for his adopted country in last year’s performance, urging Stuart Lancaster’s men to again carry the fight to the world champions.

“The English have the ability to slow our game down and stop us playing and if they did what they did last year,” he added.

“They slowed our game down but also played some rugby which you need to do against the All Blacks if you want to win.

“A lot of international players have gone through their career and never beaten the All Blacks so last year will give them hope.

“I think they need to play rugby, we saw it with South Africa a few weeks ago, it was a South African team that played some rugby and attacked New Zealand at the breakdown.

“Traditionally the All Blacks score 15-20 points in a game so Owen Farrell is going to have to kick some goals or they are going to have to score some tries.

“But it’s more than that, it’s about taking them on. Last year they took them on at the collision area and basically took Richie McCaw out of the game and in doing that they created opportunities for Tuilagi and co to score tries.”

He does however, have worrying news for England, as well as the 2017 Lions, claiming New Zealand are a better team now than when they won the 2011 World Cup, claiming they will continue to get better.

“When you look at the team in 2011, I tend to judge teams by the number of world XV players you’d have and think the class of 2013 is better than the last two years,” he said.

“And they’re becoming a pretty complete team, there is pressure on most positions and the way the coaches are introducing new players to the culture of the All Blacks is pretty special.

“They’re not over-exposing them – [Charles] Piutau has only had three starts but he’s going to be a superstar.

“Accuracy and execution are the things that set this team apart, it’s quite amazing and the development of the players’ basic skills. I always talk about a player like Kieran Read, who three, four years ago was a really good player but now he’s world class.

“He’d be the most influential player in world rugby for me, just through hard work and the long hours in terms of perfecting his basic skills.

“Ben Smith is another – he went from the best full-back in Super Rugby to the best wing in the world and he might be the best No.13 in the world after the weekend.” 

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