Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: England won't be tour de farce

No room for excuses says coach as young squad readies for All Blacks.

England coach Stuart Lancaster is hopeful hooker Dylan Hartley will be healthy to tour. Photo / Getty Images
England coach Stuart Lancaster is hopeful hooker Dylan Hartley will be healthy to tour. Photo / Getty Images

As the All Blacks sign off from their initial training camp, England coach Stuart Lancaster has talked about challenging the world's best in their own backyard.

Gripes about the timing of the tour have escalated as England's injury toll has risen but Lancaster is not buying into any excuses ahead of the three-test series in June.

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There are frustrations in not having his strongest lineup for the opening test because players were cup-tied in European competitions. That is not ideal, but it did not mean the tour was a farce, he said last night.

England have forwards Joe Marler, Dave Wilson, Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling, Dave Atwood, captain Chris Robshaw, James Haskell and Ben Morgan to build a strong pack for the initial confrontation, while Lancaster hoped hooker Dylan Hartley would recover from a shoulder injury and make the tour.

Lancaster has tapped into his staff of Graham Rowntree, Mike Catt and Andy Farrell who have experienced rugby in New Zealand, talked to many who played and toured here and read every book he could find on rugby in New Zealand.

England are sending two groups of players, the first arriving with Lancaster in eight days and the remainder the week of the June 7 test at Eden Park after completing their final club duties.

"The bigger picture for me is that we are still developing as a team in terms of understanding who can and who can't deliver at the highest level," Lancaster said.

"Having a broader tour party of 40-odd players, with the Crusaders game in there as well, means that we come to the toughest place in the world to play rugby under the pressure of playing a champion team with a huge amount of experience."

England have 15 tests before they host the World Cup next year and every game is important to find the right men for those duties.

With premier five-eighths Owen Farrell on cup duty and Toby Flood playing in France, the opening choice for the No10 jersey probably lay between George Ford or Freddie Burns as long as they survived games this weekend.

Lancaster has overseen 27 internationals with England, winning 18 of those, including his memorable 38-21 debut victory against the All Blacks in 2012.

The All Blacks squared the ledger 30-22 last year at Twickenham and will check how Lancaster and England operate away from the comfort of Twickenham.

They were a young side with an average age of about 24 and did not have great World Cup experience to fall back on. However Lancaster felt they were competitive in most areas.

"Probably the biggest step forward we made was in our game management and our attack and now we have players who begin to really understand how we are trying to develop our game," he said. "In order to beat the All Blacks you can't have a weakness. New Zealand has demonstrated that in the last 12 months themselves."

- NZ Herald

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