New Zealand 36 England 13: No settled team and drained of energy, Red Rose need a rest
Mish-mash itinerary was a nightmare
The ridiculous fixture clash between this tour and the end of the domestic club season led to England using 33 players in the three Tests, picking what amounted to a new team for each match. Only seven started all three – Joe Marler, David Wilson, Joe Launchbury, Chris Robshaw, Manu Tuilagi, Marland Yarde and Mike Brown – and it gave England a base of quicksand for a challenge any team would have found tough. “Always on the rebound,” as the head coach Stuart Lancaster put it. The good news is there are no more tours before the 2015 World Cup.
Kvesic worth a crack or make a call to Armitage
Among the many questions raised is whether England can continue without a natural back-row predator. Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw had their moments but Matt Kvesic went well in his midweek dart against the Crusaders, and the Gloucester flanker could be important as not even the workhorse Robshaw can play every minute of a World Cup. It’s just a shame the most dynamic English breakaway forward is Steffon Armitage, whose exile at the French club Toulon makes him persona non grata.
The midfield muddle
Fans of Kyle Eastmond covered their eyes during yesterday’s first half of horror defence, as Bath’s nimble centre did nothing to press his claims over Billy Twelvetrees, who had struggled in Test Two. The Luther Burrell bandwagon has hit a pothole, too, while Owen Farrell’s tour was a write-off. Having limped through two dispiriting club finals for Saracens, the fly-half missed the first Test due to the schedule and the third Test due to a knee injury that now requires a few weeks’ rest. Farrell could probably do with six months off, à la Dan Carter – some chance, in the English system. Lancaster’s Catch-22 involves picking George Ford, Danny Cipriani or Freddie Burns at No 10, sacrificing Farrell’s defence for more fluidity in attack. But if the overall goal is grinding out World Cup wins, maybe the answer at No 12 is to put Farrell there or revert to the solidity of Brad Barritt.
A trip worth making...for some
Rob Webber showed he can be England’s top hooker, given a run of fitness; the Bath man threw and scrummaged well, and drove hard in the loose. Nor are props a problem. In the backs, the best of Ben Youngs is world class, Manu Tuilagi never fails to cross the gainline, and Yarde’s leg-pumping finishes have added to England’s try threat, even if the Harlequins-bound must sharpen his tackling. And Cipriani’s re-emergence for two Tests off the bench is Hollywood material for a fly-half who was in danger of being sport’s answer to Robin Askwith – “Confessions of a Rugby Player”, at a cinema near you.
Time for a rest...home is best
It was sad to see the likes of Wood, Billy Vunipola and Launchbury so obviously drained of energy. Let’s pray their clubs look after them this summer. England do not play again until November, and of their 12 Tests before the World Cup, nine are at Twickenham, kicking off with an All Black rematch (the coaches’ head-to-head now stands at Steve Hansen 4, Lancaster 1), followed by Samoa, Australia and South Africa.
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