England a definitive Test for All Blacks amid World Cup scar tissue and 2022 turmoil

LONDON -- The All Blacks need not search their Teddington base to seek motivation for their final, headline Test of the year.

At every appearance this week the All Blacks last meeting with England has been shoved in their face, with probes and reminders of their crushing 2019 World Cup semifinal defeat constant.

That fateful night in Yokohama England confronted the haka with a V-shaped formation, with Owen Farrell's smirk living long in the memory, before their white wave forward pack relentlessly steamrolled the All Blacks.

Eddie Jones' men scored inside three minutes, and the All Blacks never recovered.

Three years on the scars of that deflating occasion stick in the soul for 14 members of the All Blacks squad who remain.

"We just mentally got outplayed," All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor recalled. "They came at us. We got punched in the face a couple of times and didn't get out of it. We're going to get much of the same this week and the boys are up for that challenge and what it's going to bring."

While that pinnacle result hurt, the depths the All Blacks plunged earlier this season, when they suffered four losses in their first six Tests which included the first home series loss against Ireland in 27 years, the one-sided loss in Mbombela and the maiden home defeat to the Pumas, sparked a public fallout none of the modern day players had previously experienced. Ian Foster was forced to axe two assistant coaches - John Plumtree and Brad Mooar - with Jason Ryan (forwards) and Joe Schmidt (attack) promoted.

The All Blacks have since stitched together six straight wins. Yet with wildly inconsistent performances punctuating many of those victories, their season will undoubtedly be defined by the outcome at Twickenham.

From a collective perspective, veteran halfback Aaron Smith revealed the desire to bury the struggles of this year was more poignant than the 2019 defeat.

"We've probably been through a lot more pain this year than that year to be honest," Smith said.

"More of a letdown for us that day was not showing up. Everyone talks about how England dominated us but when you don't throw a punch, and don't find a way to get back in the game, it's gutting.

"I wouldn't say that semifinal was all about how good they played. They just had a really good plan, they shocked us early and we couldn't get out of it.

"For some of us in this group there is scar tissue but this year has been pretty tough, I'll be honest, as an All Black. Some of the turmoil, the off-field stuff we've had and the media, it's probably been a lot worse than that semifinal loss."

The All Blacks are a vastly different unit to four months ago let alone three years, with Ryan and Schmidt injecting telling influence to overhaul their respective areas.

England are not the same team from three years ago, either.

Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje and Tom Curry are expected to be the only starting survivors from their forward pack in Japan this weekend, with influential lock/loose forward Courtney Lawes absent through injury.

England forwards coach Steve Borthwick has moved on - a common theme with Jones' coaching staff - replaced by South African Matt Proudfoot and Richard Cockerill as a combination in the last two years.

"You never like losing but this is a new team," Taylor said. "There's a few of us from 2019 but there's a lot that weren't involved. They would've witnessed a pretty tough loss as a nation but for us it's about building on the progress we've made over the last few weeks.

"The great thing about our unit is everyone is willing to learn and take on those lessons each week. The man beside me [Ryan] has really added to the All Blacks.

"Jase always wants to be better and that's contagious for us as a forward pack. He squeezes up when he needs to, and also tells us what we're doing well which is awesome. We've got some young props that are playing pretty well so I'm excited to see them go up against those boys and really stamp their mark on this Test match."

After several weeks of rotation, which has built depth but compromised performances, the All Blacks will reveal the first-choice team this week that, barring injuries, will form the backbone of next year's tilt at World Cup redemption.

Jordie Barrett, after two impressive starts at second five-eighth this season, is expected to be reinstated in the midfield where his combative physicality complements Rieko Ioane.

Mark Telea's two-try debut against Scotland, and Foster's glowing praise of his efforts since, gives him the inside running to retain the right wing role from Sevu Reece.

Smith, Richie Mo'unga and Tyrel Lomax will return fresh being rested from last week's escape in Edinburgh.

Brodie Retallick, likewise, as he returns from a two-week suspension for his 100th Test - a move that could lead to Scott Barrett switching to blindside.

Parallels are sure to be drawn between Barrett's first start for the All Blacks at blindside - in the 2019 World Cup semifinal loss to England - and this week, but the Crusaders captain has twice worn the six jersey this season, in victories against Ireland and the Wallabies.

After the highly emotive season he has endured, Foster would love nothing more than to confirm the All Blacks' resurrection on the grand Twickenham stage.

"We're keen to make a statement on where we've got to this year," Foster said. "Every team is like that with their last Test of the year. You always want to go out strong. This one is going to be pretty significant. It's a big stage and there will be a lot of build up for it. That's kind of exactly what we want."