"There is No Fear" - Ben Earl's England Teammates Unfazed by All Blacks Record at Eden Park - Ruck

“There is No Fear” – Ben Earl’s England Teammates Unfazed by All Blacks Record at Eden Park

England have endured their first of two Tests against the All Blacks, and were narrowly beaten by just one point last Saturday evening. Steve Borthwick’s side can only hope to now tie the two-match series, after taking a 16-15 defeat to New Zealand in the closed-roof home of the Highlanders.

England now face the mystical task of taking on the All Blacks at their spiritual home of Eden Park. The Auckland arena has not witnessed a New Zealand defeat for 30 years, with the last three decades bringing an unprecedented run of 48 consecutive Test match wins. Amongst the current England touring squad, only four players (Jamie George, Dan Cole, Joe Marler and Ben Spencer) were born when the All Blacks streak began.

Ben Earl of England celebrates after winning during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Back-row Ben Earl is amongst a majority group of England players, who are set for their first taste of Eden Park this coming Saturday. The iconic records of yesterday don’t cross the mid of the Saracen, who is focusing on the present and leaving the past behind. Speaking to the media in the post match mix zone down in Dunedin, Earl expressed how the young core of the squad are not fazed by the All Blacks record, at their fortress of Kiwi success.

“I guess the magic of our group is they don’t carry the burden that maybe other groups have, coming down here. Weirdly I was in the changing rooms looking around and how many lads are on 10, 5, 15 caps and it almost feels like it is a liberating thing for our team. There is no fear. Those guys were brilliant, especially Fin Baxter, he was classy, I was so impressed and so pleased for him and he is an exciting player to look out for.”

“We’ll see both teams get better this week and we will see what happens on Saturday, but we certainly….I don’t think we will carry any weight, burden or baggage around that ground. 95% of that squad have never played there so we will do what we can.”

England A player Alfie Barbeary (Bath Rugby) passes to England A player Fin Baxter (Harlequins) during the International rugby match between England A and Portugal at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on February 25th- PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK

Fin Baxter whom Earl discussed, made his Test match debut against the All Blacks in Dunedin and enjoyed a longer run than expected upon his maiden cap. Baxter was introduced at the 20 minute mark for Joe Marler, with the Harlequin now out of action with an injured foot. Also, Northampton wing Ollie Sleightholme made his debut, with the two young guns enjoying the enclosed atmosphere of the Foryth Barr Stadium’s so-called ‘zoo’.

The duo become the latest debutants from the 2023/24 England season, which saw five players receive their first caps in the 2024 Six Nations opener against Italy. Chandler Cunningham-South, Ethan Roots, Fin Smith, Fraser Dingwall and Manny Feyi-Waboso all made their first appearances in Rome, and Earl expressed how the young England squad has come a long way since their win over the Azzurri.

“I keep referring to different games we have had on this journey with this group. That team that played Italy in Rome in February is a very different team to now. That team that played France in Lyon is a very different team to now.

Ben Earl of England celebrates after winning during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“The way this team is, the experience we have got in this team, each week is a different challenge in terms of trying to grow one part of the game. The challenge for us a leadership group is to make sure that doesn’t affect other areas of our game and that is a constant balancing act in the team.

“It is very clear to see we are progressing but now we have got to start winning these close games because it reminds a bit of the France game, this is another one, and we have got to start trying to find a way to win tight ones.”

“The progression of the team is turning that into a win isn’t it? The progression of the team is closing that game out and we have got to learn quickly how to do it. There are obviously small moments that you can’t expect and that is down to the individual, down to the group and we will only be better for it.”

Ben Earl of England celebrates during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

Earl’s post-match discussion focussed upon not dwelling on the past, with the number eight emphasising how his side will ‘get stuck in’, ahead of their return Test against the All Blacks. Which such scrutiny taking place upon individual and team performance reviews, the England players have to separate their emotions from their actions, as they look to go one better this weekend against Scott Robertson’s side.

“Yes, those who had that experience of the World Cup and the gut-wrenching way we ended that tournament, we have had both experiences where we might get to stew over it the next couple of weeks and there is one more when we come back straight in the week after. We have got experiences of both. Everyone is gutted we lost but how exciting for next week in terms of we pushed these guys to the limit and frankly it is a game we should have won.”

“It can’t take us very long because we have got a game on Saturday, against the same opposition. Steve and the group have always been brilliant at stepping up. It has a similar feeling to the Scotland game (2024 Six Nations) in terms of there is only one thing to do get better and that is to train and practice on the things we need to work on. There was a lot there, exciting to get stuck in, in the week.”

Dejection for Ben Earl of England after the Six Nations Championship, Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on February 4th 2023. – PHOTO: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“It just amplifies what Test rugby is like, it comes down to individual small moments and every moment counts. We saw that today and New Zealand for the most part, took their opportunities and took their moments a little bit better than we did.”

“We have to, playing for England requires complete commitment, complete buy-in, not just in the game but in the week and the way you are around the hotel, the way you are around the boys and we have got a really good group here that I know will do it.”

Earl had his first battle with New Zealand back-row Ardie Savea, with the Saracens number eight going head to head with the World Player of the Year. In a press conference ahead of the match, Savea expressed how he was in fact a fan of Earl’s work, and the England man enjoyed the opportunity to test himself against such calibre.

Ardie Savea of New Zealand during the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade De France, Paris, France on 28 October 2023 (Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK)

“It was great to test yourself against some of the best in the world in terms of Ardie and Dalton Papali’I and those guys. It was a really hard fought battle with myself, Sam (Underhill), Chandler (Cunningham-South), Tom Curry coming off the bench, we good value for the most part of that game. We can hold our heads high in that regard and look forward to kicking on for another battle next week.

“Everything you see of a good Test match or a high-end European game, the breakdown is always a highly contested area, so no different. For the most part I thought we were very good in that area.”

“The way we felt the game was swinging with 20 to go, I thought we controlled basically all of the game. Yeah, there are some things to improve on but excitement in terms of we pushed them really close and it was another experience for myself and some of the younger players in the squad and we are only going to be better for it.”