Coach Stuart Lancaster believes England's first test against the All Blacks in June won't be a write-off after all.
When the tour dates were decided in December, Lancaster regarded the opening test of the series at Eden Park on June 7 with dread, knowing he wouldn't be able to call on players involved in the English Premiership final only a week beforehand.
But now he sees the match as a valuable opportunity to test the depth of his squad, and guide him in options for his 2015 World Cup squad.
"The more I've thought about it, the more I'm quite enthused by the opportunity to give others a chance," Lancaster said on Wednesday.
"We had a training session the other day where it was 15 on 15 and I looked at the team that were starting against Scotland, and I looked at the second that were training against them, and it was a pretty good team.
"So for the first test in New Zealand, it's not a bad thing that someone else is going to have to start for England in order to evolve our depth."
Asked if his "ultimate" 15 had changed following England's performances in the first two rounds of the Six Nations - a loss to France, and win over Scotland - he said, "Yes, and it will continue to do so.
"I expect the core of 35-40 players to remain the same, but as far who is in the 40 and who is in the starting 15 ...
"A World Cup is not won by 15 - only three players in New Zealand's team played all seven games (in the 2011 World Cup victory). I have an evolving spreadsheet that changes."
Lancaster has 18 tests until the World Cup to balance developing the squad with winning, leaving him few chances to experiment, and making the first All Blacks test priceless.
The next measure of England's standing will be at Twickenham in 10 days against Ireland, which has brushed aside Scotland and Wales.
"Ireland are becoming the most complete side, definitely, because they've clearly improved in their forward play," Lancaster said.
"Ireland have kicked the ball probably double the amount of times they did during the autumn internationals. They manage the tactical game very well. The third part of the equation is the quality of players they have.
"There were over 700 caps in their team and you only have to look at how many British Lions they have. It's a pretty good side all round at the moment."
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