Stuart Lancaster rolls the dice for second test

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 13/06/2014
Manu Tuilagi
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NEW ROLE: Blockbusting England centre Manu Tuilagi has been moved to the wing for the second test against the All Blacks tomorrow night.

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Power, pace, strike, subtlety and control; England now feel their backline has it all.

Moving Manu Tuilagi to the right wing is an undoubted gamble. Having not played on the edge for over three years - since his days with the English under-20s - the experiment carries real risks.

Stuart Lancaster, though, appears unfazed. England's seemingly unflappable coach has wanted to pull this potential trump card for some time.

In fact, with Danny Care and Owen Farrell reunited in the halves, and the complimentary Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell paired in the midfield, Lancaster stopped just short of saying this was the best backline of his increasingly impressive tenure.

''We'll wait and see,'' he said with a chuckle. ''We've never really had the complete package available. From the outset we've wanted to have a balance of footballers who can control and make good decisions, and strike runners with power and pace.''

The audacious ploy, one of seven changes including two positional switches in the starting team, further signals how far this outfit has come in their approach to the game. Even the most one-eyed Kiwi supporters can no longer generalise them as 10-man England.

Tuilagi was, of course, injured during the Six Nations, when Twelvetrees and Burrell cemented their combination. Lancaster seems to have arrived at the theory there's only one way to assess his genuine versatility - throw him in against the world's best.

With a full 47-man squad to select from, Lancaster rolled the dice by removing Tuilagi from the area he's been so influential against the All Blacks. In the last three tests, his sizable Samoan frame caused regular problems.

Lancaster believes the rewards will outweigh the risks in Dunedin.

Tuilagi is sure to be targeted positionally and under the high ball, though England's wingers now defend up in the line, leaving fullback Mike Brown, Farrell and No 8 Ben Morgan to cover the backfield.

''He's more than happy catching the high ball and I'm sure he'll get some come his way,'' Lancaster said. ''It's not a risk when I look at the work he's done there during the week. He's played there as an age-grade player. It's something we've wanted to look at for a while so we're very comfortable with it.''

Most attention will focus on the expected heavyweight collisions between Tuilagi (112kg) and the returning Julian Savea (108kg). The opposing duo will both be given the freedom to roam and pop up in the midfield to punch holes, but when they come to blows, there could be carnage.

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''There will be times they'll come together one-on-one and it will be a fascinating confrontation,'' he said.

England's forward pack has been selected with an acknowledgement they faded in the defeat at Eden Park. Their bench is stacked with experience and firepower, in the form of New Zealand-born hooker Dylan Hartley, damaging No 8 Billy Vunipola and premier lock Courtney Lawes, all of whom are regular starters.

In perfect conditions under the roof, the visitors realise their fitness and conditioning will be tested. History shows the test is likely to be played at frenetic pace throughout. To counter that, Lancaster will unleash those big guns late and hope his side are still in a position to learn from last week's failings to close out the match.

''We didn't manage that last 10 minutes well enough to win the game. The quality of our bench will hopefully make a difference in that regard,'' he said. ''To beat the All Blacks you've got to play for the full 80. Time and time again they've won the game in the last 10 minutes.''

England: Mike Brown, Manu Tuilagi, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, Marland Yarde, Owen Farrell, Danny Care, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw (c), Tom Wood, Geoff Parling, Joe Launchbury, David Wilson, Rob Webber, Joe Marler Reserves: Dylan Hartley, Matt Mullan, Kieran Brookes, Courtney Lawes, Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, Freddie Burns, Chris Ashton.

- Stuff

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