Preview: New Zealand vs England 3rd Test

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As our attention briefly turned toward the midweek game England face against New Zealand’s premier club side, the Crusaders, there is still a clear focus on what England must do if they are to beat the All Blacks in their back yard.

Whilst there has been a lot of talk in the media about how dismal the performance was last weekend, and how England must somehow salvage some sort of national pride in the final fixture of this summers tour, I certainly feel that England are not to far away from where they should be. With the World Cup around 18 months away and with the added pressure of England playing hosts, there is a great expectation that the side must now show that they are more than capable of dealing with teams such as New Zealand. However, are we being too critical and typically English?

So, how do England deal with the All Blacks this weekend, and how does Stuart Lancaster and his coaching setup restore public confidence in this developing England side? First things first, Manu Tuilagi. For me Tuilagi is England’s best player and is as destructive in defence as he is in attack. Lancaster and co opted to play him on the wing last weekend, but unfortunately unanimously failed to live up to his high performance expectations, mainly because he just didn’t get his hands on the ball. Shifting Manu back to his favoured number 13 shirt will prove the right decision as it will enable England to get over the gainline more effectively, releasing space for the outside backs second and third phase.

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This moves nicely onto this question of who will partner Tuilagi this coming Saturday. For me Billy Twelvetrees hasn’t been playing well and has been making too many mistakes. Despite this, however, I do like having another playmaker at 12 whilst Billy also provides a physical presence in attack and defence as well as a solid kicking game. Following England’s experiment with Manu Tuilagi on the wing, I would be excited to see whether or not Kyle Eastmond can make the 14 berth his own. Kyle is an exciting, talented, pacey player who has all the necessary skills to make it work on the wing, having said this we were all saying the same with regards to Manu, but how did that turn out?

Other wingers who have excelled this season at club level include the mercurial talent of Anthony Watson. At just 20 years old, he is someone with limited experience at international level, however England need to think long term with the World Cup in mind, and potentially now is the time to provide Watson with an opportunity on the wing. Having scored a great try in the mid week game, he will be high on confidence and is someone who has the ability to change a game.

The big question is who to play at Fly Half as Owen Farrell has been ruled out due to a strain to his medial ligament in his knee. Farrell who himself is only 22 is someone who has learnt on the job and is now considered not only a great future talent, but someone who can be relied upon to provide expert leadership qualities far above his years suggest. George Ford, who hasn’t been provided with an opportunity as of yet during this tour is a player who had a near faultless season with Bath. His kicking game and game management was outstanding, but his physicality and age are two limitations regarding his game. Freddie Burns, who had a brilliant game during the first Test has a good chance of starting in the final Test, whilst Cipriani showed a pragmatic approached to his game during the mid week clash against the Crusaders suggesting he can manage the game as well as anyone, as well as having the flair that is has been missing from England in the past.

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For me England’s performances over the last two tests have shown that we can go toe to toe with the very best in the world, and whilst performances only go so far, as this team grows and learns more and more, England will have a unique combination of youthfulness and experience that will challenge any side in world rugby. Bring on Saturday.

My England 23 Man Squad Final Test:

1 Joe Marler

2 Dylan Hartley

3 David Wilson

4 Joe Launchbury

5 Geoff Parling

6 Tom Wood

7 Chris Robshaw (C)

8 Billy Vunipola

9 Danny Care

10 Danny Cipriani

11 Marland Yarde

12 Billy Twelvetrees

13 Manu Tuilagi

14 Kyle Eastmond

15 Mike Brown

 

16 Rob Webber

17 Matt Mullan

18 Kieran Brookes

19 Courtney Lawes

20 James Haskell

21 Ben Youngs

22 Freddie Burns

23 Anthony Watson

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