England, already missing five Lions Test players in the tight forward department, suffered another serious body blow when the Wasps lock Joe Launchbury was ruled out of the entire autumn international series with a neck injury.
Stuart Lancaster, the head coach, has been building his 2015 World Cup pack around Launchbury and was keen to give him further exposure to the strongest opponents in the sport, starting with the All Blacks this weekend.
Launchbury will spend between six and eight weeks out of the game and has no chance of facing South Africa, Samoa or Australia later this month. His absence opens up a squad place for the uncapped Leicester second-rower Graham Kitchener, whose recent form in a broken club side has been exceptional.
Kitchener was called up yesterday evening, along with the long-serving London Irish hooker David Paice. While neither man is expected to face New Zealand at Twickenham, there is every possibility they will be given some game time over the coming weeks.
Two other members of the original 33-man party are off-limits because of injury: the Northampton centre Luther Burrell, who has a damaged hand, and his club colleague Stephen Myler. The outside-half has picked up a mild hamstring problem and is unavailable for the time being.
Lancaster sent a number of fringe players back to their clubs, including the Northampton full-back Ben Foden and the Gloucester flanker Matt Kvesic, but retained 36 in preparation for the meeting with the world champions. The coach’s plan to pair Kyle Eastmond of Bath and Brad Barritt of Saracens in a new-look centre partnership is still intact at this stage, despite the former’s rib problem, but competition for wing places is at its hottest. Semesa Rokoduguni of Bath is expected to make his Test debut against the All Blacks, but Marland Yarde of Harlequins is under considerable pressure for his place.Reuse content