England underwent speed training overseen by a sprint specialist who has worked with Arsenal as their Portugal camp began in earnest on Friday morning.
It was the first time Jonas Dodoo, who also includes Danny Cipriani and Anthony Watson among his clients, has worked with Eddie Jones‘ men after being flown in from London to join the 36-man squad in the Algarve.
The backs were put through a succession of drills including knee-high runs holding batons above their heads and running against resistance bands.
Australian defence mastermind Jason Ryles was also present at a rainy first session of the week as England stepped up preparations for their series opener against South Africa on November 3.
Ryles, an assistant coach with Rugby league club Melbourne Storm, has been used on an intermittent basis by Jones to provide assistance ahead of major campaigns.
The latest from Portugal— Jack de Menezes (@JackdeMenezes) October 26, 2018
Sprint guru Jonas Dodoo jets in to put England squad through their paces - but warm-weather training disrupted by relentless rainhttps://t.co/2tJhx71Y2X
All 36 members of England’s squad were able to take part in a sodden session having arrived in Portugal on Wednesday, finally giving Jones some good news after the dreadful succession of injuries that has hampered the build-up to a crucial series of Quilter Internationals.
Watson, Billy and Mako Vunipola and Chris Robshaw are among the players missing for the Tests against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia, but Jones has at least welcomed back Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o from the treatment room.
England’s head coach insists his team selection for the opener against the Springboks will take shape after Friday’s training session.
“We’ll have a reasonable idea then. It’s exciting – very exciting. We’ve lost 320 caps but we’re still going to put together a really good team,” Jones said.
“We’ve got a number of players coming back who I haven’t seen for a long time like Te’o and Manu. They bring a different dimension to the team.
“And at this stage of the year our players are in the best condition I’ve seen them in over the three years.
“I’ve never seen them looking leaner, with better body composition. Mentally they’re in a really good spot.
“I think a World Cup sharpens their focus and not having been on a Lions tour allows them the necessary rest and recovery.
“And I think the clubs are doing a great job of looking after them. So it’s a combination of those factors that has left our players in a good spot.”
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The third Bledisloe Cup Test of the year, between the All Blacks and the Wallabies, is set down for this Saturday (kick off 10:00 UAE time) in the unfamiliar location of Yokohama in Japan – the venue for next year’s Rugby World Cup final.
The game ended up in Japan as New Zealand decided to move the third match to help them get in some acclimatization ahead of the global showpiece.
They also were (justifiably) confident that they would have retained the Bledisloe after two matches so home ground advantage would not be required in the finale.
Here are our talking points ahead of the match:
Gulf in class
It’s a dead rubber but don’t expect the All Blacks to ease up, and even if they did they’d still win comfortably. You know the All Blacks are in control when they start to pity the Wallabies.
Both coach Steve Hansen and flyhalf Beauden Barrett have been desperately trying to talk up the Australians pre-game.
Hansen in a bizarre comparison likened Wallabies coach Michael Cheika to no less than the great Sir Alex Ferguson.
While Barrett, referencing Australia’s (albeit impressive) fightback against Argentina – when they came back from 24-points down at half time – said the Wallabies have turned the corner.
Beauden Barrett speaks out about potential Japan sojourn after next year's Rugby World Cup https://t.co/9vX92VzotJ— nzherald (@nzherald) October 23, 2018
Which exact corner that may be is anyone’s guess, perhaps from oblivion to also-ran?
“We always get a confident Australia, there’s no doubt about that,” said Barrett.
“They’ve probably rediscovered that bit of belief that may have been missing. It was a great comeback, we acknowledge that – be we weren’t surprised to see them come back.
“We can’t take for granted that we’re going to just keep winning.”
The Wallabies did come back last year in Bledisloe 3, after losing the first two, but don’t expect a similar result on Saturday. You only need look at the team sheets to see the gulf in class.
The All Blacks have some huge matches coming up against England and Ireland and they will be using this hit-out as much needed match practice.
COACH'S CHAT | Get the lowdown from coach Steve Hansen on the selection of TJ Perenara in the nine jersey to face Australia in Yokohama this weekend.— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 25, 2018
FULL TEAM ➡️ https://t.co/2kPgm55xgA pic.twitter.com/PmJBmf1go5
Records up for grabs
The New Zealand media is trying to keep supporters interested by hyping up the records that the All Blacks could break in Yokohama.
It’s a testament to how one-sided the series has been (38-13 in Sydney and 40-12 in Auckland) that New Zealand are a good chance to break no less than five all time Bledisloe Cup records.
They need to win by 29 points or more to set a new record for the biggest points differential in a series (currently +81, only set in 2016).
In the same vein they need 39 points to set a new record for most team points scored in a series, which is currently 116 (scored in four games in 2010). If they do that they’ll probably score the five tries to make it the most tries scored in a series (currently 16 in 1972).
In terms of individual records Beauden Barrett needs just 12 points to break Dan Carter’s record for most points in a series (54, set in 2009), and Barrett needs just one try to set a new mark for most tries scored in a series (he’s currently tied on five with Ben Smith in 2013).
At least there’s something at stake.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has launched an impassioned defence of Wallabies rival Michael Cheika, pointing to how Manchester United stuck with Alex Ferguson before an unprecedented run of football success: https://t.co/w3dGA9QgUL pic.twitter.com/kIPGPRGsB7— FOX SPORTS Rugby (@FOXRUGBY) October 25, 2018
Lack of interest
When one side wins a two-sided sporting contest for 16 straight years the sporting public tend to tune out, and that is what has happened with the Bledisloe.
Even though they are one of the top sporting teams on the planet, their biggest fans still want to see a contest – and that is not something they have got against the Wallabies, for some time (see above).
The home Bledisloe Tests for the All Blacks are sold out but ticket sales have been declining in Australia steadily over the last decade. A proud sporting nation Australians don’t like to watch their countrymen lose.
A similar lack of interest has transferred to Japan where the 72,000 capacity Nissan Stadium is set to be half full by kick-off.
The All Blacks play Japan in nearby Tokyo on November 3 and it seems local fans are far more interested in supporting the home team than watching a Bledisloe cake walk. Hard to blame them.
Reece Hodge’s ankle injury has forced a reshuffle to the Wallabies backline with Folau shifting to the number 13 jersey and Sefa Naivalu named on the wing for his first Test since playing Italy at Suncorp Stadium in June last year.
Naivalu will be looking to add to his remarkable strike rate in the Gold jersey, with four tries in seven Tests despite featuring predominantly off the bench.
Rob Simmons will start at lock alongside Izack Rodda after groin soreness forced Adam Coleman to sit out the final Bledisloe Cup Test of 2018.
Veteran Sekope Kepu is in line to play his 100th Test after being named amongst the reserves and will become the first prop in Wallabies Test history (and 9th Wallaby overall) to reach the century mark, should he run on at Yokohama Stadium on Saturday.
Kepu is joined on the bench by backrower Jack Dempsey, who hasn’t featured at Test level since the third Bledisloe Cup fixture last year because of a hamstring injury.
Dempsey was man-of-the-match in a memorable display against New Zealand, when Australia snuck home 23-18 in front of a packed house at Suncorp Stadium last October.
Samu Kerevi is also set to make his Test return after nearly four months out with a biceps injury suffered in the final game against Ireland at Allianz Stadium in June.
Wallabies team to play New Zealand at Nissan Stadium, Yokohama on Saturday October 27 at 10:00 UAE time
*one to be omitted
Bledisloe Cup Results
Wallabies 13 v New Zealand 38 at ANZ Stadium, Sydney, Saturday August 18
New Zealand 40 v Wallabies 12 at Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday August 25
New Zealand v Wallabies at Nissan Stadium, Yokohama Saturday October 27 10:00 UAE Time