After last week's last-minute defeat by an apparent 'second-string' England side against the undefeated world champions at Eden Park, many have given the visitors a real chance of victory this weekend with a fully reimbursed squad for Stuart Lancaster to choose from.
However, Lancaster has decided to only make five changes to the team which started last weeks test, despite 15 new players becoming available from Premiership finalists Northampton Saints and Saracens and several other players coming back from injury.
Four of these changes have come in the backs, with Danny Care, Owen Farrell, Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell reclaiming their places and Manu Tuilagi moving out onto the wing.
Centre Kyle Eastmond and wing Jonny May, meanwhile, drop out of the match day 23 altogether.
Burrell and Twelvetrees - who has recovered from an ankle injury - will resume their Six Nations partnership which worked so well while Farrell and Care - who missed last week's defeat through a shoulder injury - will replace benched Ben Youngs and Freddie Burns, who both put in good performances last Saturday.
Marland Yarde and Mike Brown also retain their places, although Yarde will switch to the left wing in order to accommodate Tuilagi on the other flank, and while some disagree with Lancaster's decision to put England’s battering-ram and most effective carrier in the defeat in Auckland out wide, he seems certain that it will work.
“Manu played all his England age-grade rugby on the wing and has trained well there for us so we are confident that he can bring his skill set to that position," said Lancaster.
The only change in the pack comes via Tom Wood, who replaces James Haskell at blindside flanker, despite the muscle-packed Wasps man making the most tackles and turnovers last week. Courtney Lawes has also been demoted to the bench after Geoff Parling's dominance at the line-out last week, as has Saracens' number eight Billy Vunipola following Ben Morgan's destructive display.
Most surprisingly, however, is that hooker Rob Webber has kept his place ahead of 55-cap line-out maestro Dylan Hartley, who was tipped by many to make a return to the position which he has made his own over the past year.
Nevertheless, Lancaster is a very clever man and what this allows him to do is bring several experienced and even more destructive players on to the field with 20 to 30 minutes left to play, allowing them to run at a tiring New Zealand defence, a chance which the likes of Vunipola will relish.
The bench has been reimbursed altogether, with Chris Ashton joining Lawes, Hartley and Vunipola as well Burns and Youngs dropping down to it from last weeks starting XV. Prop Matthew Mullan is the only player who retains his place, with uncapped Kieran Brooks taking the number 18 shirt - a player who has come through the England ranks, which Lancaster was quick to point out.
“We’re also delighted that Kieran Brookes has the opportunity to win his first cap off the bench as yet another example of someone coming through our Under 20 programme into the senior team.”
The squad once again speaks for itself about the intense competition for places, a situation which almost no other team in the world has and one which gives English rugby an incredibly optimistic view. Lancaster once again paid dividends to this when announcing the squad.
“It’s been evident in training all along just how intense competition for places is but especially now we have the guys who arrived at the end of last week," he concluded.
“We knew selection for this Test was always going to be extra tough with the players who played at Eden Park putting their hands up and those who watched from the stands.
“We believe that this is a team which can level the series in Dunedin but we are also conscious that there are two Tests and a significant game against the Crusaders left on this tour and we will use those opportunities to test the whole squad.”
He also paid tribute to those from last weeks starting team who will be missing out on Saturday when adding: "Kyle, James, Jonny, Ben and Freddie did a great job and deserve a huge amount of credit and now the pressure is on those now starting and coming on to the bench to raise the bar even higher."
One thing for sure is that this is an incredibly exciting, youthful England team which holds incredibly bright prospects for both the short-term and long-term future.
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