England tour of New Zealand: Billy Twelvetrees losing battle to be fit for first Test as England turn to untried Freddie Burns-Kyle Eastmond combination
With Owen Farrell, Stephen Myler and George Ford unavailable, Burns is likely to start at fly-half with Eastmond outside him at 12 despite being short on fitness
Tuesday 03 June 2014
England centre Billy Twelvetrees appears to have lost his race to be fit for Saturday's first Test against New Zealand at Eden Park.
Twelvetrees missed training once again on Tuesday in the final practice session before head coach Stuart Lancaster names his team on Wednesday night.
The 25-year-old has been nursing an ankle injury sustained on club duty on May 3 and his inability to train this week means he will miss the series opener against the All Blacks.
Bath's Kyle Eastmond is likely to take Twelvetrees' place at inside centre, winning his third cap despite being short of match fitness himself.
The 24-year-old rugby league convert has not played since April 27 after falling out of favour at the Recreation Ground in the aftermath of the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final win against Wasps.
It means England will face the world champions with their fourth-choice inside centre and fly-half.
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Freddie Burns is set to fill the number 10 jersey in the absence of Aviva Premiership finalists Owen Farrell and Stephen Myler and the injured George Ford.
England's prospects of upsetting the match favourites at Eden Park have improved after influential All Blacks number eight Kieran Read was ruled out with concussion.
The International Rugby Board player of the year is being assessed on a day-by-day basis, but having been sidelined since April with neurological symptoms his participation in the series is under threat.
England second row Joe Launchbury has faced Read twice in the last 18 months and knows his loss will be keenly felt.
"Kieran has had a fantastic season and has been named player of the year for all the right reasons," Launchbury said.
England were edged 30-22 by the All Blacks last autumn but sent them crashing to a 38-21 defeat in 2012.
Both matches were at Twickenham, however, and preparations for Saturday's first Test have been hamstrung by the absence of those players involved in the Premiership final and a lengthy injury list.
Launchbury insists they can topple the world champions, but accepts facing them in New Zealand is the "ultimate challenge".
"The way we have played against New Zealand in the last two matches has to give us confidence, but so too do our more recent games because we really came on during the Six Nations," the Wasps lock said.
"After a shaky start we built really well and brought on our attacking game, but the next step now is to continue improving.
"We scored a few more tries in the Six Nations and hopefully that side of our game will continue.
"It's the ultimate challenge to come over here and play a three-Test series against New Zealand.
"We're aware of that and have been training with a slightly different group of players, but we're excited about the weekend."
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