Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Tour chance to check strength of red rose

Hooker Tom Youngs and brother Ben started for the Lions last night. Photo / Getty Images
Hooker Tom Youngs and brother Ben started for the Lions last night. Photo / Getty Images

The lingering whiff of the 38-21 loss to England last December still festers among the All Blacks.

There are wrongs to be righted and business attended to when the sides resume combat on the end of year trip. Before then, players and coaching staff will have taken a bead on England's impact within the Lions.

Four of England's finest began last night's second test in Melbourne with a further three in the reserves, and, while Wales dominated selection, that is still a decent chunk of red rose rugby clout.

Three of the tight five and halfback Ben Youngs - they are key elements in the stability and direction for any test combination.

Other props like Dan Cole and the injured Alex Corbisiero are experienced while the goalkicking prowess of five eighths Owen Farrell has gone up a notch on tour.

There's no Manu Tuilagai because of a shoulder problem but we can recall the trouble he inflicted in midfield at Twickenham.

Former England captain and multi-decorated Lions loose forward Lawrence Dallaglio likes England's progress but adds caution about their need for improvement before the 2015 World Cup.

Development paths were broadening along with the player base and coach Stuart Lancaster was directing operations strongly.

"We have just won the under-20 World Cup, we had a pretty successful tour of Argentina and it will be a very competitive environment when these players get back home," Dallaglio said.

In recent years England have been the final fixture on the All Blacks Europe trip but this time the order is Japan, France, England and Ireland.

"England are tracking all right," said Dallaglio, "but we have still got a way to go and the test in Cardiff [loss to Wales pre-Lions tour] showed them that.

"They still have to find a maturity about how to play away from home and manage their game but they will learn from that.

"They are moving in the right direction and showed up well against the All Blacks last time. For large parts of the Six Nations they played well."

Dallaglio is one of many former Lions connected to the tour group as supporters, commentators, ambassadors or promotional men.

While his gaze was pro-Lions he is a staunch Englishman with his eyes and hopes on their claiming a first World Cup when they host the 2015 event.

The foundations were starting to settle and another gauge would be the return fixture with the All Blacks in November.

"I'm sure New Zealand won't get caught cold like they did before," he said.

England have a three-test tour of New Zealand next June and that would be invaluable and a better measure of their growth.

Competition for places in the England squad was a key factor in that development chart and making sure people played at the top of their game.

"There is a bold and brave look about them and there has been reward," Dallaglio said. "The guys on this Lions tour should all be better for this experience."

The World Cup was not far away and it was massive for the sport, huge for the country and crucial that England were competitive.

They were in a difficult section with tests against Wales and Australia wedged between matches against Fiji and a qualifier. If there was any good fortune, the Wales and Wallabies matches were at Twickenham.

A number of young English players like Farrell were emerging and would be reflected in the 2015 squad.

"In 2003 we only had five from the 1999 side. Things change quickly and the competition is hotting up in England and I think there will be some turnover," said Dallaglio.

Farrell was a great kid, young and still learning but this trip would enhance his rugby education and there was no doubt he would end up playing 10 for England for some time.

"As Australians will tell you goalkicking is quite important too. Farrell has the right temperament for tests. His father had that, so if he has half of that, he will be fine."

England were shown up in their final Six Nations test by Wales who had Grand Slam experience and that sort of cohesion.

"And as England know all too well, you have to beat the Southern Hemisphere teams on a regular basis. It is not just about being the best team in Europe so I think England have to develop a game plan which focuses on how to beat the best in the world."

- Herald on Sunday

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