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England’s likely team, 2nd Test debates, and U20s promise

Stuart Lancaster names his England team for the first Test of their New Zealand tour at 11.15pm.

Lancaster has 30 names to choose from for the opening Test, with the fifteen who played in the Aviva Premiership final or the England fixture against the Barbarians, plus Anthony Watson who travelled out with the late group after recovering from injury and Billy Twelvetrees who is still out with his injury, all unavailable until the second Test.

It should mean that the team will just about pick itself. Freddie Burns will get the nod over Danny Cipriani at fly half, perhaps not a populist move but certainly one that respects the premise of having the Elite Player Squad. Cipriani will surely be on the bench though, and perhaps the task for him on this tour is to play his way into the next EPS, possibly via a start against the Crusaders.

With Twelvetrees out injured it looks likely that Kyle Eastmond will start at inside centre. The only other real option is to shift Tuilagi in one from his likely 13 position and start Henry Trinder in that outside berth, that would not really suit England’s game plan though and in any case, the noises coming from the England camp in recent times are that if Tuilagi were to be shifted about, it would be out wide.

The only available wingers are Marland Yarde and Jonny May and they will almost certainly start. Despite the form of Chris Pennell, Mike Brown will start at full back rather than moving him to a less effective berth for him on the wing.

Danny Care will almost certainly continue at scrum half after his Six Nations and club performances this year, with Ben Youngs on the bench.

In the front row Rob Webber has recovered from injury and will most likely start at hooker. There have been calls for Harlequins’ Dave Ward to start but given Webber’s experience he is the sensible choice to start in what will be a vociferous Eden Park.

Joe Marler and David Wilson pretty much pick themselves either side of him after performing so well for both club and country this season.

Joe Launchbury is a shoo-in in the second row almost regardless of competition; his partner has been a little more up for debate with both Dave Attwood and Geoff Parling both putting together strong arguments. Parling will likely get the nod due to his experience and lineout acumen though.

In the back row Chris Robshaw and Ben Morgan are certain starters, with Tom Wood’s replacement a little less obvious. The options are to start one of Tom Johnson or James Haskell at six, or to move Robshaw there and start Kvesic in an attempt to combat Richie McCaw on the floor. Haskell’s form and physicality are likely to see him start though, with Tom Johnson the logical bench option.

Second Test

All of which leads us to the rather interesting question of what might happen in the second Test. Stuart Lancaster is well known for trying not to destabilise a successful team and puts a lot of stock in having possession of the shirt, so if (unlikely as it might seem) England put in a top performance on Saturday, what could happen selection wise for the second Test?

One would think that the props will remain in place but will Dylan Hartley come in at hooker? He has only played 45 minutes of rugby since returning from injury so a start in Dunedin might be a tough ask.

His Northampton club mate, Courtney Lawes, might be expected to return to the second row – but consider this, a year ago Geoff Parling was a starting British and Irish Test Lion, while Lawes was toiling in Argentina. Lawes has been in prodigious form but Parling is certainly capable of keeping the younger man on the bench.

Billy Vunipola is probably, alongside Owen Farrell, the most certain to return to the side in place of Ben Morgan, while Tom Wood ought to come back in at 6 – but if James Haskell plays like he has been for Wasps he will take some shifting.

Owen Farrell will come in for Freddie Burns but Stephen Myler will push hard. He outplayed Farrell in the Aviva Premiership final and is arguably the man in form. It would be a pretty bold call to start him though.

Klye Eastmond will come under pressure too but who will take his place is maybe the most open question of the lot. Billy Twelvetrees is the man currently in possession but Luther Burrell starred at outside centre in the Six Nations and has been in top form for Northampton Saints at inside centre – he may warrant the spot. It might be that pairing him and Tuilagi is considered a bit too one dimensional though, which may play back to Eastmond or Twelvetrees, while the ever reliable and much trusted Brad Barritt remains a strong option.

The back three will likely stay the same, though given Chris Ashton’s form – unpopular as it might be – he might come into contention. A first start for Anthony Watson in place of Jonny May would be an interesting option though.

Integration

One of the real positives of this tour to date has been the integration between the Senior Squad and the U20 squad, who are currently in Auckland for the Junior World Championship.

There have been plenty of examples on the RFU’s media outlets of the two sides interacting and it is a sensible piece of management by the England staff. Some of these players are likely to be involved in the 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign and the earlier the become comfortable with and around the senior set up, the faster they will be able to adapt when that time comes.

It is not a bad way of inspiring them to success at U20 level either, nor is it a bad way of reminding the senior players that there is always new talent coming through. Shrewd all round.

Kicking on

What a game the Aviva Premiership final was! Sport has a way of producing incredible drama and it more than delivered on Saturday afternoon. It will be interesting to see how both sides do next year though.

Will Northampton Saints kick on or will they, as many do after a first big win, have a dip as they enjoy their success. The impression is that they are a pretty determined bunch though and that they are more likely to kick on in search of more.

For Saracens it could be an almost fatal hammer-blow or it could be the making of them. Losing the Heineken Cup final and then the Aviva Premiership, in such heart-breaking fashion, all in one week is tough and many sides might not come back from it, there are plenty of examples of that across different sports. What there are also examples of though are teams feeding off that disappointment to become stronger – Northampton Saints would be one such side. Next year will be a big one for Saracens.

By Angus Savage

@AngusSavageXV

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