Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: There's life in dead rubber yet

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Kyle Eastmond will be reintegrated into England's backline tomorrow. Photo / Greg Bowker
Kyle Eastmond will be reintegrated into England's backline tomorrow. Photo / Greg Bowker

Changes were inevitable for England after form, injury and strategy muddles in Dunedin.

Numerically they are on the rise. Five alterations occurred after the opening defeat at Eden Park and now seven with the series dashed in Dunedin.

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Strategically the concept offers coach Stuart Lancaster more ideas about men he thinks can be at the core of their trek towards next year's World Cup but makes it tough in the immediate challenges.

The All Blacks are one group who have learnt over a number of years how to integrate different players and retain a consistent impact. They have matched players to their patterns.

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When England change players they alter their template.

The forwards' structure - with Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola - will be a mirror image of their work in the Auckland and Dunedin internationals.

The adjustments will come from the backs because of players' instincts and skills.

Injury has removed Danny Care and Owen Farrell from the judgment chamber where Care, certainly, made some average decisions in Dunedin and where Farrell was sturdy in a backline of not much more.

Further out Manu Tuilagi wallowed out of place and pace on the wing.

Tuilagi has been redeployed to the midfield where he is most likely to create havoc while the other quartet are unwanted or injured.

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Reassigning Ben Youngs, Freddie Burns, Kyle Eastmond and Tuilagi for the Save Our Tour test in Hamilton tomorrow will give them optimism about their futures. Quite how they felt walking the plank after showing out well at Eden Park and how they respond to their restoration is a matter for the England staff.

A scroll through their management list reveals a sports scientist and legal counsel but no psychologist.

England need a victory in Hamilton to stem all sorts of inquiries.

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They have to prove to themselves they can beat the top rated team in the world, that they can win away from home and go to their summer recess on a high, knowing what's needed when the All Blacks come calling into Twickenham in November.

Flanker Tom Wood shone a light on their predicament. Talking through defeats gnawed at players' self-esteem and was counter-productive. England had to be more disciplined and realistic about how they played the game.

"When you haven't had the ball for 10 to 15 minutes and then you force passes, it's criminal," he said. "You just need to get your hands on it, build some pressure and make them defend for a while. Maybe we need to be more pragmatic, put the ball in behind them and go back to our driving game and set-piece game that had worked so well for us."

The All Blacks will scent the power they can glean from a final kill, one more chance to inflict a fourth straight psychological blow against an England team on the rise, one with personnel changes but inexact responses.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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