All Blacks great warns England of Ireland threat
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: New Zealand great Sean Fitzpatrick has told England they could get the same treatment as the All Blacks when they try to set a new record against Ireland on Saturday.
England will travel to Dublin for the final match of the 2017 Six Nations Championship bidding to break the mark set by world champions New Zealand for most successive Test wins by a 'tier one' or leading rugby union nation.
Victory at Lansdowne Road would also see England, who retained the Six Nations title with a 61-21 thrashing of Scotland at Twickenham last weekend, complete back-to-back Grand Slams.
But it was Ireland, coached by a Kiwi in Joe Schmidt, who stopped New Zealand's run at 18 with their first-ever success against the All Blacks, a dramatic 40-29 win in Chicago in November.
England have been transformed under coach Eddie Jones since the Australian took over following a miserable 2015 World Cup where the tournament hosts could not string two wins together, defeats by Wales and Australia on consecutive weekends at Twickenham condemning them to a first-round exit.
Their winning streak started when they beat Uruguay in a 'dead' pool match, with Jones presiding over the next 17 victories and yet to lose a match as England coach.
But former New Zealand captain, speaking to Monday's London Evening Standard in his capacity as Laureus World Sports Academy chairman said: "The game in Dublin will be the big challenge and a telling match for England.
"While I see England really challenging New Zealand at the 2019 World Cup, Ireland won't be that far behind. England cannot afford to get too far ahead of themselves.
"I didn't think anyone would get as close to the All Blacks' record so quickly. It is a great achievement and, like the All Blacks, England don't go away in games.
"But it is very difficult to know how close England are to the All Blacks because they are not playing each other," added the former World Cup-winning hooker.
England haven't faced New Zealand during their unbeaten sequence and are not due to play the All Blacks again until 2018 at the earliest.
That prompted Zinzan Brooke, another former New Zealand international, to say: "To win 19 consecutive matches would be an achievement, but you have to beat the number one team in the world in that run.
"England can beat the All Blacks' record but you would have hoped that in those 19 matches they would have come across New Zealand. Ireland will chuck the kitchen sink at England in Dublin.”
Fitzpatrick, reflecting on England's progress under Jones, said: "He has increased their skills and they look a lot more focused on what they are doing -- and winning becomes a habit...You have to take your hat off to him and the way he is preparing the team."