8 Nov 2018

All Black Tour Diary: Anticipation builds under a grey London sky

2:50 pm on 8 November 2018

Opinion - Now we're into it. The two big games of the All Blacks end of year tour have finally rolled around, starting with this weekend's clash against England in London.

The All Blacks perform the haka ahead of the test match with Japan at Tokyo Stadium.

The All Blacks perform the haka ahead of the test match with Japan at Tokyo Stadium. Photo: Hannah Peters / POOL

First though, a quick word on a pretty intense couple of weeks in Tokyo. If you're planning on heading up there for next year's World Cup, start saving. It's a gigantic city with endless things to eat, drink and spend time doing - but it is not cheap. The stadiums you'll go to are a decent distance from the city, so expect to spend a lot of time on the public transport system. If you want to go to a decent restaurant, wear a collar and don't rock in like a bunch of loud yobbos. Learn how to say "arigatou gozaimasu" and get ready to bow a lot.

We said sayonara to Japan over the weekend, making our way to another great city of the world. London is a place where the All Blacks do play quite a bit, so much so that they can slot straight back into a familiar setting, The Lensbury in the Teddington suburb in the south west.

The hotel doubles as the All Blacks' training venue, and it's where the team was based in 2015. There's a fenced-off field just out the back door so the players can pop out and have their training, then retire straight away to their rooms for some peace and quiet.

That's what they'll get here, too. Teddington is very much away from the hustle and bustle of London city, with the streets mostly filled with uniformed children from nearby public schools. Yoga pants-clad housewives from the surrounding affluent suburbs head to the tennis courts with their unnecessary sun visors; there is no discernible sunshine here at this time of year, it gets dark around 4pm so full time at Twickenham this Saturday will see the floodlights on full blast.

The giant 82,000-seat stadium lies a few miles to the north of The Lensbury. The last time the All Blacks played there (aside from last year's match against the Barbarians that was little more than an inter-squad hit out) the game ended with Dan Carter kicking a conversion with his right foot and Richie McCaw lifting the World Cup. Both of those men paid the team a visit over in Tokyo: McCaw as a guest of one of his many corporate endorsement deals, and Carter with his new and possibly final professional team, the Kobe Steelers.

This weekend may well see a celebrity touch of another kind of royalty when it comes time for kick off. The general consensus is that someone from the royal family will be in attendance at Twickenham, with the hot favourite being the Prince Harry. The game falls on 10 November, one day before the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Poppies are out in full force across London, on lapels, lamp posts and shop windows, given that 11 November is their day to commemorate their servicemen.

So it would make a lot of sense that Prince Harry, with both his status as a serving member of the Royal Air Corps and patronage of the RFU, to show up and maybe bring his wife, Meghan, along.

Or maybe they've had enough of New Zealand after being there last week, who knows.

Whatever happens, his team is very much up against it this weekend. The English press are circling like sharks around Eddie Jones, a heavy loss here will put a huge question mark over whether he'll remain in charge of the side heading into the World Cup.

It's gloomy outside right now, and that's unlikely to change much by the time the game kicks off. If anything, it will get worse with rain forecast for Saturday. Despite England's wretched form this year, this game is still huge, and the anticipation in the air at The Lensbury is palpable.

Saturday afternoon should be titanic.

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