England reconstructed their back division following the close-shave Test defeat by the All Blacks in Auckland nine days ago, only to find the world champions had rediscovered enough of the best of themselves to trump the changes in Dunedin. Now the tourists face the prospect of ripping up Plan B and going back to Plan A.
Owen Farrell, the senior outside-half and principal goal-kicker, suffered a knee injury towards the end of Saturday’s Test and is struggling to make the final game of the series in Hamilton this weekend. The two first-choice centres from the Six Nations, Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell, have ankle problems while the scrum-half Danny Care has given his shoulder another wrench. He too may miss the last match of a long campaign.
All four were awaiting medical assessments, but with preparation time at a premium – not to mention the added complication of tomorrow’s midweek fixture against the Canterbury-based Crusaders – head coach Stuart Lancaster spent yesterday thinking through his alternatives. He may have no choice but to restore the rejuvenated Freddie Burns at No 10, ask Kyle Eastmond and Manu Tuilagi to resume the centre partnership that promised so much in the Auckland Test and give Chris Ashton a start on the right wing.
The Crusaders game is likely to be extremely testing for England’s non-Test contingent. Todd Blackadder, coach of the Super 15 outfit, was in no position to name anything approaching a full-strength side thanks to All Black call-ups, but a powerful front row and a loose-forward combination featuring two of the Whitelock brothers, supported by an organiser as gifted as the outside-half Tyler Bleyendaal, spells danger.
Lancaster is likely to pair Ed Slater with Dave Attwood in the engine room, run Matt Kvesic on the open-side flank and name Brad Barritt as his go-to man in midfield.
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