ABs' 'Ghosts of Twickenham' return for England
There are enough ghosts of past England glories to at least send a shiver up the spine.
Coming off 14 straight test wins during an unbeaten season, the All Blacks have taken on mythical proportions.
Predictions of a pasting at Eden Park on Saturday have not been hard to find these past few weeks.
How quickly forgotten that loss to England just two short seasons ago at Twickenham when a similarly pumped up All Blacks outfit were put to the sword.
Fast forward to the present and no less than 10 of the men that shunted and shoved Steve Hansen's 2012 All Blacks around Twickenham during a 38-21 shellacking are back for more.
With a swag of his first choice players present at training, but not available for selection after their late arrival, England coach Stuart Lancaster has plumped for those who will truly believe they can topple the All Blacks.
Seven of the class of 2012 are back for another crack at the Holy Grail.
That likely made Freddie Burns a no-brainer to start at first five-eighth in Saturday's first test, ahead of the flighty Danny Cipriani.
Mentored by former All Black Carlos Spencer as a youngster, Burns hasn't had the best year of his career as he's dealt with a difficult move from Gloucester, where he'd played for seven years, to Leicester.
The 24-year-old might be in just his fourth test. He may also be well down the ranks of English pivots with George Ford injured and, incumbent Owen Farrell among the late comers.
But Burns has good memories to call upon. He came off the reserves on test debut that day England thumped the All Blacks.
So did former Highlanders loose forward James Haskell, who will start at blindside, and halfback Danny Care, who will need to pass a fitness test today after injuring his shoulder in training.
Burns will play inside Manusamoa Tuilagi, the man who swatted Dan Carter aside two years ago, and made the All Blacks backline defence look like a kids rippa rugby side.
Tuilagi, like fullback Mike Brown, the Six Nations player of the year, who was on the wing that day, big No 8 Ben Morgan, and locks Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury, know the All Blacks aren't unbeatable.
Lancaster seems intent on building on the feel-good factor. Words like "buzzing" and "excited" were peppered through his press conference.
The late arriving group was "desperate" to play including premiership winning Northampton halfback Lee Dickson, who will be on the bench if Care is ruled out.
But lingering behind Lancaster's positive front are questions. Like the fact that England have only 299 test caps in their starting XV compared to the All Blacks 779.
Tuilagi's return is a big boost, but he plays outside an inexperienced second five-eighth in Kyle Eastmond, thrust into action due to an ankle injury to Billy Twelvetrees.
Lancaster said his side was used to playing more experienced opposition.
"We've always operated, since I started, around about the 200-300 caps in the staring XV ... It's not the only barometer to what wins and loses games to be honest and I think we showed that in the Six Nations."
They showed it two years ago too, when they played an All Blacks side that, at the time boasted more than 800 test caps between them.
ENGLAND: Mike Brown, Marland Yarde, Manusamoa Tuilagi, Kyle Eastmond, Jonny May, Freddie Burns, Danny Care, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw (c), James Haskell, Geoff Parling, Joe Launchbury, David Wilson, Rob Webber, Joe Marler. Reserves: Matt Mullan, Joe Gray, Henry Thomas, Dave Attwood, Tom Johnson, Ben Youngs, Danny Cipriani, Chris Pennell
TEAM LINEUPS INTERACTIVE
Click the image to view player profiles:
The Dominion Post