Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: England looking a little light in midfield

Inexperienced Kyle Eastmond faces a big test against Ma'a Nonu at Eden Park in only his third international. Photo / Greg Bowker
Inexperienced Kyle Eastmond faces a big test against Ma'a Nonu at Eden Park in only his third international. Photo / Greg Bowker

England have been forced to include one of their light-steppers for the midfield tumult.

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The inexperienced Kyle Eastmond has been pitched into second five-eighth duties as England pondered how best to make up for some midfield absentees. Eastmond's form has been such that he has been overlooked by his Bath club for the past month but has been elevated for his third test because of England's selection problems.

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Regular choice Billy Twelvetrees is still troubled by injury while Brad Barritt and Luther Burrell were midweek arrivals and unavailable for tomorrow's opening test at Eden Park.

"Billy Twelvetrees is recovering well from his ankle injury and should be available for the second test and it's now a good opportunity for Kyle Eastmond to build on what he achieved in Argentina last summer," coach Stuart Lancaster said.

"We've had a good week's training in Auckland and have prepared well and are ready for the massive challenge ahead. It doesn't get much bigger than playing New Zealand at Eden Park where they haven't lost in 20 years but those selected know what they have to do."

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With Manu Tuilagi set for centre, the selectors have picked former league international Eastmond, who swapped codes three years ago and was capped twice by England in Argentina last year.

He will square off with Ma'a Nonu who will carry the experiences of 88 tests into this match and a hefty physical advantage.

Eastmond is a snappy player with a reputation for quality offloads but questions about aspects of his defensive technique, which will interest Nonu who has a height and 26kg advantage on his rival.

The All Blacks will be keen to get their ball-carriers among the English five-eighths early because neither Eastmond nor pivot Freddie Burns bring convincing endorsements about their defence.

Burns has had a season of modest productivity with his club but has been promoted for his fourth test because of the unavailability and injury of three others.

The key decision in the pack was to include Geoff Parling at lock where his lineout expertise will be balanced with the aggressive work Dave Attwood can bring from the bench.

Hooker Rob Webber has won his struggle to overcome a knee problem and will play his sixth test while one-time Highlanders recruit James Haskell has been chosen on the blindside. After some patchy work since returning home, Haskell regained more of his sting this season.

- NZ Herald

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