England look to raise morale in this mid-week fixture after losing the second Test and the series against New Zealand while the Crusaders promise to spring a few surprises on the tourist, finds Alan Dymock in Christchurch.
During the naming of the England squad to face the Canterbury Crusaders on the Tuesday night before the third and final Test in Hamilton, mid-week captain Ed Slater explained how this game represents a perfect opportunity to lift a weary squad.
The Leicester Tiger – one of four uncapped players picked to start in this fixture – starts the match opposite a Crusaders squad with only one member of the current All Blacks squad returning, flanker Matt Todd who sits on the bench.
“We’re under no illusions, we’ve lost the last two games and this is a chance for us to lift the spirit in the camp,” The second-row said. “We’ve been close in the last two Test games and guys are really eager to make their mark in this game. Our focus first and foremost is to play well as a team, but we definitely need to get that win.”
It was something England assistant coach Rowntree backed whilst insisting that this game is vitally important to the tour. “We’ve spoken about this game for a long time. It’s a fourth Test and a huge occasion for people like Ed (Slater) who trained well with the game in mind.
“I’m looking forward to the game, it’s a quick shift of focus from the Test, but it’s one we’ve planned for and selected for a long time. We’re expecting a massive game.”
The main talking points in this England selection are that Kyle Eastmond is rested as question marks still hang over the fitness of Test centres Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell, while Danny Cipriani comes in to start at fly-half. The three other uncapped starters for England are Henry Trinder, Anthony Watson and loosehead Alex Waller.
On the bench England have uncapped players in Dave Ward, Nathan Catt, young Kyle Sinckler and Canterbury local and Sale Sharks second-rower Michael Paterson, who was called in late for this fixture having played agains the Barbarians at Twickenham at the start of the month.
Meanwhile England’s next opponents, the Crusaders, who have had weeks without competitive rugby due to the international break, still with a number of regular starters available and the team have have come out ready to swing at an England side desperate to take something from their trip down under.
Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder made a point of saying on Monday that there was “zero” risk of his charges being overawed, before explaining that England’s analysis of the team may not fully prepare them for what’s coming on Tuesday night.
“We’ve looked at this like a Test match for us,” former All Black Blackadder said. “We’ve not prepared as we do for the Super Rugby game in two weeks. We looked at it and are giving it the respect it deserves. We have prepared as if the Crusaders are a Test team preparing for a Test, which it will be.
“It’s actually been quite refreshing, just to get out of what is almost a grind at times. We’ve changed a little bit of our structures and have enjoyed the one-off-ness. We’re not here for bonus points, we’re here representing a proud jersey and a strong franchise and also, it’s something really quite unique. We aren’t the All Blacks. England will get a little slice of what we are about.
“There are some people that think Super Rugby is Super Touch but it is a fantastic competition we play in. It’s also a great opportunity to showcase our rugby to the world and that’s quite exciting.”
England team to face Canterbury Crusaders: Alex Goode; Ben Foden, Henry Trinder, Brad Barritt, Anthony Watson; Danny Cipriani, Lee Dickson; Alex Waller, Joe Gray, Henry Thomas, Ed Slater (c), Dave Attwood, James Haskell, Matt Kvesic, Tom Johnson.
England subs to face Canterbury Crusaders: David Ward, Nathan Catt, Kyle Sinckler, Michael Paterson, Richard Wigglesworth, Stephen Myler, Jonny May, Chris Pennell.
Canterbury Crusaders to face England: Tom Taylor; Johnny McNicholl, Reynold Lee-Lo, Kieron Fonotia, Nafi Tuitavake; Tyler Bleyendaal, Willi Heinz; Tim Perry, Corey Flynn, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Joel Everson, Jordan Taufua, George Whitelock (c), Luke Whitelock.
Canterbury Crusaders subs to face England: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Siate Tokolahi, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, Andy Ellis, Adam Whitelock, Rob Thompson.