England have ended up reverting back to some of their first Test combinations for their final run out in Hamilton this Saturday, with Stuart Lancaster claiming “I still think we are finding out which players can and can’t play at international level.”
The biggest change for England has been dropping Billy Twelvetrees altogether so that Kyle Eastmond can start at 12, with Manu Tuilagi at 13. Luther Burrell gives them an option from the bench.
With Owen Farrell pulling out with a knee injury yesterday it was clear that Freddie Burns was going to start, but with Danny Care also pulling out with a recurrence of the shoulder injury that kept him from playing in Auckland and Ben Youngs starting again, England have the same nine, ten, 11 and 12 from the first Test.
More experienced players have also come in to support the youngsters from the first Test, as Dylan Hartley is reinstated at hooker, Courtney Lawes sends Joe Launchbury to the bench in order to start beside Geoff Parling and Billy Vunipola swaps with Ben Morgan to start. Chris Ashton joins Marland Yarde and Mike Brown in the back three and Lee Dickson and Danny Cipriani come on to the bench.
When asked about his centres, Lancaster admitted that he was sussing out “who can really deliver at the highest level, let’s put it that way. We’ve had a good chance to look at Twelvetrees during the course of the season. Eastmond’s come in, he’s had one opportunity, he’s taken it, now’s the right time to give him a second chance.
“Looking at Kyle (Eastmond) and Manu (Tuilagi) again in the third test will give us the form they showed with Luther as an option from the bench. And potentially at 12 to go alongside Manu. It is more form than anything else.”
With the Test series already wrapped up and the England players admitting that this one is all about writing wrongs and leaving these islands with something to show for it – something that will undoubtedly still impress the rest of the rugby world – they have thrown the initiative to those who Lancaster feels can keep calm heads when the hosts put pressure on.
“It’s about understanding momentum in a game and changing it back to your momentum,” Lancaster said. “There are certain things you can do. To use football terminology you need to put your foot on the ball. It’s getting players to understand that in the heat of battle, when a couple of things have gone against us, territory and possession becomes more important. What might be appropriate in a different context in the game is not appropriate in this context. That’s what unfolded in that 20-minute period (in Dunedin). It comes down to experience in the end.”
Of course, with Tuilagi being brought back towards the heavy traffic and off the wing, there would be a suggestion that the grand experiment has failed. But as the England head coach was pressed on whether or not the move in the second Test was a failure he downplayed the move and later spoke of the great opportunity in front of Ashton.
On whether Tuilagi on the wing was a bust he said: “No, I think it was fine. Manu played well on the wing and definitely didn’t make any errors. He contributed well to the game and it is definitely something we will look at for the future without a doubt.”
England team to face the All Blacks: Mike Brown; Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Kyle Eastmond, Marland Yarde; Freddie Burns, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley, Dave Wilson, Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling, Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw (c), Billy Vunipola.
England subs: Rob Webber, Matt Mullan, Kieran Brookes, Joe Launchbury, Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson, Danny Cipriani, Luther Burrell.