Battle of Farrell and Barrett and other talking points ahead of England versus New Zealand

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Owen Farrell and England kick-off their Six Nations campaign against Ireland on February 2.

England face one of the toughest tests in rugby when they lock horns with New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday evening.

After last weekend’s 12-11 win over South Africa, Eddie Jones’ side will be bidding to beat the world champions as they look to climb their way back up the rankings.

As you can imagine, there is a myriad of talking points ahead of the clash and here we select three of the most prominent.

BATTLE AT NO10

Beauden Barrett is one of the greatest fly-halves of this current generation, but for a two-time World Player of the Year, his place kicking is appalling.

Remarkably, the Hurricanes man is the worst goal kicker in the world for Tier One nations – with a 71.9 per cent success rate (179/249) from the tee. In contrast, Owen Farrell has a 78.9 per cent success rate (251/318) which places him fifth on the list.

Barrett, 27, may have the playmaking skills which are the envy of his rivals, but how many teams have won a Rugby World Cup with a poor placekicker?

It’s something Steve Hansen needs to weigh up ahead of next September’s showpiece in Japan, especially when his brother Jordie and sub fly-half Richie Mo’unga are much better placekickers.

For England, co-captain Farrell is their star man and makes everything tick with his sound defence, accurate kicks under pressure and an ability to boss the game with ease.

Although Barrett’s kicking is under par for an international fly-half, he can still cause serious damage with ball in hand. Both players will be central to the outcome of Saturday’s result.

CAN ENGLAND FINALLY DOMINATE THE BREAKDOWN? 

That’s the million pound question.

The wrong back-row selection, the absence of star names due to injury and a lack of discipline have contributed to England losing the breakdown battle since the turn of the calendar year.

With totemic No7 Tom Curry ruled out with an ankle injury, much of the focus will fall on Maro Itoje, Brad Shields and Mark Wilson to step up and dominate the tackle area.

Itoje, in particular, was immense the last time he faced the All Blacks on the Lions tour in July 2017, ruling the line-out and covering every blade of grass along the way.

The 24-year-old may have struggled for a run of consistent form since, but this is the perfect fixture for him to step up again and prove why he is a future England captain in the waiting.

At No8, Wilson is without the same carrying power of the injured Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes, but Jones will need the in-form Newcastle man to get around the pitch quicker in a bid to cut down the imposing All Blacks forwards from gaining a foothold in the contest.

TRIES WIN MATCHES

If England are to beat the world champions, they need to score plenty of tries.

One of the strongest areas of Jones’ team is his back three, with Elliot Daly, Jack Nowell and Jonny May all possessing speed, power, solid defence and reliability under the high ball.

May, in particular, is the lighting rod of the home attack and can make magic happen any time he gets the ball in space. The Gloucester winger has five tries in his previous six tests but will need to be at his utmost best if he is to get the upperhand on the All Blacks duo of Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane – who has scored a stunning 22 tries in 21 appearances.

However, for all England’s prowess in attack, they have only crossed the line 22 times in their 10 tests in 2018, in contrast to the All Blacks’ 67 tries in 12 tests this year.

If Jones wants to taste a first win over New Zealand, then he needs his players to cut loose and ship the ball out to his danger men out wide.

IS MANU TUILAGI READY?

The Leicester centre looks set to make his England return this weekend after being included in the 25-man squad.

The 27-year-old was due to make his first international appearance since 2016 in the win over South Africa on Saturday but was forced to withdraw due to a groin strain.

Tuilagi though trained fully this week without any issues and is expected to be re-selected when Jones names his team on Thursday.

Six years ago he tore apart the All Blacks with a scintillating display in the historic 38-21 win at Twickenham, setting up tries for Brad Barritt and Chris Ashton and scoring a late intercept himself.

Expect him to make a serious impact when introduced alongside Ben Te’o or Henry Slade on Saturday.

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