Don't write us off, warns English halfback
They're lambs to the slaughter, say the pessimists. It's a tour de farce, proclaim the naysayers. And that's just the critics in their own country.
If you've read the reports accompanying this touring England rugby team, you could wonder why they've even bothered showing up for their first-ever three-test tour of New Zealand. The Blackwash is considered a fait accompli, all interest confined to how heavy the margins of defeat will be.
Even the normally rose-tinted glasses of former coach Sir Clive Woodward have been shrouded in gloom, the 2003 World Cup-winner declaring this visit the "biggest cockup" since the Tour from Hell he presided over in 1998.
Of course, the pundits have their reasons. An absurd scheduling clash sees Stuart Lancaster's men shorn of their Premiership finalists from Saracens and Northampton for next Saturday's series opener against the All Blacks at Eden Park. That contingent will jet in midweek and be available for Dunedin's second test.
It's as well they've got a large revolving door at the front of their downtown Auckland hotel. It will be very busy over the next seven days.
Throw in a lengthy injury list and some fatigued bodies at the end of the long northern season, and factor in that the All Blacks haven't lost a test since they were ambushed by this very England team at Twickenham back in November, 2012, and it's understandable there's a general air of fatalism about the tourists' prospects. Just don't ask the guys who really count to buy into this despondency. Feisty England halfback Danny Care yesterday declared the belief factor burning bright in a group very much with its eye on the big prize.
"There's huge belief," said the 47-cap Care yesterday during a public appearance at Auckland's Ponsonby club to mark their 140th anniversary celebrations.
"We're under no illusions. We know who the best team in the world are at moment and that's what we're striving to get to.
"We want to be that best team in the world, and you can only do that by beating them. The last two games we've won one, lost one, and we're going into this first test trying to get that win and ready to do anything to make that happen."
The staunch Yorkshireman from the Harlequins club says the first wave of 31 players have embraced their underdog status for Saturday's series opener.
"We back ourselves," he said. "We're playing the best team in the world in their own backyard, and we'll give the All Blacks all the respect they deserve. But we're a team on the up, a young, exciting team who like to throw the ball around and we're going to give it a crack on Saturday." It's this sort of attitude that could make Eden Park a trickier prospect than some are anticipating.
"Some lads are going to get a chance to play who maybe wouldn't have done," added Care. "There's some quality talent in our team, a great squad and a lot of players still to come over. That will give us a big boost when they get here but at the moment you look at the players that are here, and we're excited for the challenge."
Care started his test career in Auckland in 2008 when he came off the bench in the 37-20 series-opening defeat and he's featured in five of the six test matchups against the All Blacks since.
"These are the games you want to be playing in. We hear every week it's going to be 3-0 to the All Blacks, but we're going to do our country proud, try and play well and get a win."
The tourists had their first training session on a sunny Auckland day yesterday and followed their Ponsonby visit in the afternoon, with an appearance at a charity event at The Cloud in the evening. A group also attended last night's Blues-Hurricanes Super Rugby match at Eden Park.