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Do not despair – England’s XV v New Zealand will be a strong side

England used just twenty-eight players during the 2014 RBS Six Nations and just fifteen of those players will be available for the First Test against New Zealand on the 7th June.

Four of the absent thirteen, Jack Nowell, Dan Cole, George Ford and Tom Youngs are absent due to injury or personal matters. Nobody would complain about that, that is just life and sport, what is ridiculous is that nine will be absent due to being involved in the Aviva Premiership final, which clashes with the England tour.

Thousands have column inches have been spent debating that particular piece of decision making, however it is worth actually looking at the likely England team for that first test before getting too hot headed.

From Stuart Lancaster’s initial squad of 30, it seems likely that a backline of Mike Brown, Marland Yarde, Manu Tuilagi, Billy Twelvetrees (if fit), Freddie Burns, and Danny Care will be selected.

That has the look of being very close to a first choice backline. Only the absence of Owen Farrell at fly half truly stands out, while Jonny May could perhaps face stiffer competition – but May did start all five Six Nations fixtures.

The pack is a little less ‘first choice’, it looks set to be Joe Marler, Rob Webber, David Wilson, Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw, and Ben Morgan. However it is hard to look at it and declare it ‘weak’, only Rob Webber at hooker really stands out as being a relative newcomer to that pack – and let’s remember that Tom Youngs is not absent due to fixture clashes but due to personal reasons, so that cannot be pinned on the scheduling.

Marler and Wilson are arguably England’s top props at the moment – certainly Marler, who started all but the last Six Nations game, while Wilson played the final two and has put Dan Cole (again injured, not clashed) under real pressure this season.

Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes were outstanding together in the autumn, but Geoff Parling started for the Lions last summer, hardly a step backwards.

The absence of Billy Vunipola will hurt, while Tom Wood will be missed too. However Haskell has a half-century of caps and Ben Morgan was first choice in the autumn, it is hardly panic stations.

So yes, the scheduling nonsense is a ridiculous situation, it seems to make a mockery of a sense of working together from Premiership Rugby and the RFU and it puts the players in an unfair situation. Luther Burrell for instance, so impressive in the Six Nations, could find himself out of the equation to start if the centre pairing in the 1st Test go well. He was already up against it with Tuilagi now back in the frame.

He is not the only one, if Parling returns to his Lions form, Courtney Lawes could go from key England player to on the bench in the second Test just because he had to play for his club.

However, that scheduling conflict and the ridiculousness of it should not lead England fans to despair. The side will not be a ‘weakened’ England side. The only real area of concern will be at fly half, where the choice between a badly out of form Freddie Burns and the returning, but still not totally trusted, Danny Cipriani is not ideal.

Even there though, while Farrell is absent due to club commitments, his back up – and a man many want as first choice – George Ford, is absent only due to injury.

It is a situation that deserves criticism and outrage, but not despair – England may well be beaten, and beaten well, but they will not be that significantly weakened.

Likely 1st Test Side

 

Likely 2nd Test Side

Mike Brown

15

Mike Brown

Marland Yarde

14

Marland Yarde

Manu Tuilagi

13

Manu Tuilagi

Billy Twelvetrees

12

Billy Twelvetrees*

Jonny May

11

Jonny May

Freddie Burns

10

Owen Farrell

Danny Care

9

Danny Care

Joe Marler

1

Joe Marler

Rob Webber

2

Dylan Hartley

David Wilson

3

David Wilson

Joe Launchbury

4

Joe Launchbury

Geoff Parling

5

Courtney Lawes

James Haskell

6

Tom Wood

Chris Robshaw

7

Chris Robshaw

Ben Morgan

8

Billy Vunipola

*Twelvetrees, Barritt, and Burrell likely to be in heavy competition.

By Angus Savage

@AngusSavageXV

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