England arrive with 'weak' squad
Did the All Black selectors get it right?
What was poised to be a tightly fought test series between the Three Lions and the All Blacks is poised to be a one-sided affair.
England have shown in their two previous encounters with the world champions that they are a force to be reckoned with on their day. In 2012, they served an in-form All Blacks team a lesson at Twickenham. Last year, the All Blacks almost fell victim to England again as their forward pack pushed the All Blacks the full distance.
The three match Steinlager series was set to see two of the top three sides in international rugby battle it out. However with the English club final taking place in the weekend, England are left without several first choice players. Saracens and Northampton, comprise many of the Englands key players. Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell, Courtney Lawes and many more are all guaranteed starters in Stuart Lancaster's starting lineup. However, England will take to the turf on Saturday night without nine players from the English final.
The equivalent would be sending the All Blacks to the Northern Hemisphere without Chiefs and Hurricanes players for the first test. An All Blacks team without Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Julian Savea and Conrad Smith would still push every international team however would lack the same level of class and guile. England do not have the depth to deal with such a shortage in availability.
In addition to the already weak squad for the first test at Eden Park, many England players are nursing knocks. Danny Cipriani, the fifth choice English first-five is pushing for a start. This will come as welcome news to any All Blacks fans who saw him struggle badly for the Melbourne Rebels.
It has to be asked what the point of these series is if both teams are not able to field their strongest teams. The TAB perhaps offer the best indication of the result of the first test at Eden Park, with the All Blacks offering a paltry $1.05. Expect a strong All Blacks performance on Saturday night, anything else will simply not be good enough against such an inexperienced English side.
Player of the series: Jerome Kaino – starting to hit his straps with the Blues recently. Is likely to start, whether at 6 or 8.
Find of the series: Malakai Fekitoa – this one is predictable. If the All Blacks comfortably take the first two tests expect him to get a start in the final test. It is hard to imagine him not fitting into the All Blacks backline with ease, given his form for the Highlanders.
Player to watch: Danny Care - an energetic player who is a hybrid of TJ Perenara (dangerous around the ruck) and Aaron Smith (fine passer and rarely makes mistakes). He was one of the best players in the Six Nations championship earlier this year.
Series prediction: 2-1 – All Blacks to ease home in the first two tests. England to narrowly win a tight third test, with Hansen trying some new combinations.
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