England have recalled Wasps flanker James Haskell for the opening Test against the World Champion All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday.
Haskell is set to add to his 50 England caps after a 12 month absence and will have an opportunity of staking a claim for the remainder of the three-test series after several England regulars have been forced to miss out on Saturdays clash after joining the tour late because of the Aviva Premiership final which took place last weekend.
The 29 year old who rejoined Wasps after a three year spell playing for Stade Francais, Ricoh Black Rams in Japan and Super Rugby franchise the Highlanders, has been in sparking form for his club and will bring some much needed experience to the blindside of the scrum against a team that is the benchmark in the word game.
Stuart Lancaster’s team shows 8 changes from their last outing against Italy in the Six Nations and the experience of Haskell, Geoff Parling and Manu Tuilagi will be crucial come kick-off on Saturday.
Billy Twelvetrees misses out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, providing an opportunity for Bath’s Kyle Eastmond to step up alongside Tuilagi for his third cap.
Eastmond is a Rugby League covert that was also capped four times by England in that code and alongside the battering Tuilagi, should provide a firm defensive wall in midfield opposite the hugely experienced and best centre pairing in world rugby of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
New Leicester recruit Freddie Burns slots in at 10 due to the late arrival of Owen Farrell and you can bet New Zealand’s brilliant loose forward trio of McCaw, Messam and the recalled Kaino will be keen to show him some special attention.
Danny Care who will look to make a nuisance of himself around the fringes has been included as the starting scrum-half on the team sheet however Lancaster will be wary of his injured shoulder sustained in training and could elevate the 35 cap Ben Youngs if he fails to make a full recovery.
Steve Hansen’s All Blacks look a class outfit despite missing Dan Carter, Julian Savea and IRB world player of the year Kieran Read.
Carter remains on a self imposed sabbatical, the explosive Savea is struggling with a knee injury and Kieran Read has been withdrawn after suffering after-effects from a concussion sustained in Super Rugby.
Jerome Kaino returns to the All Blacks in place of Read, his first appearance since the World Cup final against France in 2011 following a two year stint in Japan, underlining the depth of resources at Hansen’s disposal.
Cory Jane replaces Savea on the wing, the Hurricanes flyer will earn his 46th cap, while the Chiefs fly-half Aaron Cruden earns his 30th start for the All Blacks in place of Carter.
What lies ahead for England looks more than an impossible task, and when you factor in that Steve Hanson’s match-day 23 includes 963 caps at an average age of 27, one wonders whether it is even worth England turning up on Saturday.
I can even go as far to suggest that the IRB should think about awarding the All Blacks the Webb Ellis trophy now to save us all the pain and hassle of watching this incredible team march into history as the only side to win back to back World Cups.
ENGLAND: 15-Mike Brown, 14-Marland Yarde, 13-Manu Tuilagi, 12-Kyle Eastmond, 11-Jonny May, 10-Freddie Burns, 9-Danny Care; 8-Ben Morgan, 7-Chris Robshaw (captain), 6-James Haskell, 5-Geoff Parling, 4-Joe Launchbury, 3-David Wilson, 2-Rob Webber, 1-Joe Marler
BENCH: 16-Joe Gray, 17-Matt Mullan, 18-Henry Thomas, 19-Dave Attwood, 20-Tom Johnson, 21-Ben Youngs, 22-Danny Cipriani, 23-Chris Pennell
NEW ZEALAND TEAM: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma'a Nonu, 11-Cory Jane, 10-Aaron Cruden, 9-Aaron Smith; 8-Jerome Kaino, 7-Richie McCaw (capt), 6-Liam Messam, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Tony Woodcock
BENCH: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Charlie Faumuina, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Victor Vito, 21 TJ Perenara, 22-Beauden Barrett, 23-Malakai Fekitoa