Clash of the Pacific midfield titans in third test

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 12:57 20/06/2014
Manu Tuilagi
Getty Images
ENFORCER: Manu Tuilagi taking part in an England training session in Christchurch.

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Stuart Lancaster denies he deliberately set-up this juicy confrontation between Pacific Island warriors Manu Tuilagi and Malakai Fekitoa.

Like All Blacks counterpart Steve Hansen, who replaced the injured Conrad Smith with Fekitoa for tomorrow night's third test in Hamilton, England coach Lancaster has also introduced a powerfully-born centre from Polynesia - though he has been forced to make a late change to his second row on the match's eve.

Wasps lock Joe Launchbury has replace Geoff Parling, who has not recovered from a hamstring injury sustained in the second test.

England coach Stuart Lancaster was taking no chances, reuniting his regular first-choice locks. Bath's Dave Atwood comes on to the bench.

"Geoff is not 100 per cent right so Joe will start," Lancaster said.

"Geoff has done a great job since coming back but Joe and Courtney Lawes established themselves in the Six Nations and we are looking forward to them pairing up again in this final test."

Tuilagi called Samoa home before moving to the United Kingdom in his early teens, while Fekitoa was born in Tonga and transferred to New Zealand after winning a scholarship to South Auckland's Wesley College.

If ever there was a case of using some hard-running Polynesian power to give Fekitoa a dose of his own medicine, this seems to be it.

Not so, says Lancaster.

"We based our selections on what suited us," he maintained.

"We would never select on the basis of what the other team is doing and you would never know, anyway, what side they are going to pick."

While Smith's broken thumb forced Hansen to re-jig his midfield, Lancaster, who has made eight positional changes to the side that lost the second test 28-27 in Dunedin, cleaned-out his centre pairing of Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell because of form issues.

Lancaster has returned Kyle Eastmond and Tuilagi, a combination that out-performed Ma'a Nonu and Smith in the first test loss at Eden Park, in the hope they will not go missing like Twelvetrees and Burrell during the second half at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Lancaster noted Twelvetrees struggled because he hadn't played in 12 weeks and Burrell is a better option off the bench.

The reality, however, is Tuilagi should have been kept at centre after the way he ripped into his work in Auckland; instead he was shifted to the right wing where he was outplayed by the Julian Savea.

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Although Fekitoa played as a replacement at second five-eighths in the first test, much of Lancaster's intelligence has been gathered from footage of his exploits with the Highlanders.

Nonu and Fekitoa will present a formidable force on attack but the absence of the uber-cool Smith, who has 77 test caps, means there is a danger their exhuberance could see them stray from Hansen's game plans and get isolated.

Not surprisingly Lancaster, no doubt still smarting by the way Nonu was so easily got in behind his defenders last weekend, promised the English would deliver a better execution of their blitz defence.

"You can see from our defensive system, irrespective of who we play in those midfield combinations, that line-speed is clearly part of our armoury and we'll obvious try to shut the space down.

"That's critical obviously; not just from the set-piece but particularly on those loose ball scenarios where New Zealand are at their best.

"When they gain the ball in counter-attack or broken field possession that's when they are the biggest threat. That's where Nonu and Ben Smith were exceptional last week."

The series is already lost but Lancaster stated there were several reasons to be encouraged by his team's performances - especially when club commitments forced him to overlook a number of first-string players in the first test.

In a bid to avoid a 3-0 humiliation he has bolstered his pack with No 8 Billy Vunipola, lock Courtney Lawes with Rotorua hooker Dylan Hartley who will be relishing a start at Waikato Stadium.

"He's a proud Englishman but also very proud of his heritage and his family from here as well," Lancaster confirmed. "It will mean a lot to him."

England: Mike Brown, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Kyle Eastmond, Marland Yarde, Freddie Burns, Ben Youngs, Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood,  Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, David Wilson, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler. Reserves: Rob Webber, Matt Mullan, Kieran Brookes,  Dave Attwood, Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson, Danny Cipriani, Luther Burrell. 

- The Press

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