New Zealand v England, 1st Test
Lineout and self-belief key for England
Tom Hamilton in Auckland
June 5, 2014
England all head in one direction © Getty Images
If England are to win on Saturday, they will need to get their set piece perfect. While most of the team picked itself for the first Test, largely because of the meagre pool from which Lancaster could choose his team from due to the well-publicised logistical difficulties behind this game, the second-row and blindside were the two positions where Lancaster actually had options rather than merely giving those who had the right number on their back the nod for the job.
For Joe Launchbury and Geoff Parling, it is clear their role in the lineout will be essential in giving England a foothold in what will be an uphill battle. Rob Webber's successful return from a knee injury sustained toward the end of the season will also come as a welcome boost for Lancaster and his coaching staff.
Those on the bench - Joe Gray and Dave Attwood - are likely to see a fair bit of game time in the second-half with Lancaster looking to the Bath lock's "power and physicality" to make an impact.
It is an area the All Blacks are wary of. Steve Hansen said on Thursday he expects a strong lineout drive from the English and lock Sam Whitelock was similarly wary.
"England have a great set piece, but that's not the only example," Whitelock said. "The lineout's great but so are their scrum, the kick-off as well. They're going to come with a few new ideas but we need to make sure we are ready."
The success of that area of the game is likely to go a long way to determine exactly how England fare on Saturday. If the basics work, then England will at least have a platform from which to unleash the likes of Kyle Eastmond.
The Bath inside centre was always going to start following Twelvetrees' struggles in returning to fitness after the ankle injury he picked up back on May 3. That Eastmond last played competitive rugby on April 27, due to falling out of favour with Bath, is a concern from an English point of view, but Lancaster has been quick to back his rare skillset. For Eastmond, his role in Saturday's match will revolve around acting as the second playmaker while also attacking the All Blacks.
"It's still got that ball playing 12 that I prefer to have and someone to distribute and make good decisions and it's got the power runners as well," Lancaster said. "Clearly for us we need to give Kyle the license to do what he does best and that's put people through holes but also encourage to take on players himself as he's a genuine running threat and a passing threat."
There are plenty of questions and few answers about this England team. They have been widely written off and branded a second-rate side by those on this side of the pond in New Zealand but they are likely to feel they have a point to prove.
Playing the All Blacks on their own turf is hard but a starting XV with just 299 caps worth of Test experience, compared to the All Blacks' 779, looks a mathematical recipe for a potentially humbling match. But for Lancaster, alongside set piece familiarity and the general game plan which will revolve around accuracy, for him and the coaches, they have had to build the confidence and belief in this crop of players.
'That is the key thing," Lancaster said. "When you are playing against a side as good as the All Blacks, with the record they've got - not just as a country but at Eden Park in particular - you are only going to beat them if you believe you can do it. We have done the work on and off the field so that we can go into the game full of confidence.
"I think the coaches have done a great job of preparing the team and the players have responded. I think we are in a good place going into the game. Whilst not all these players have played together, quite a lot of them played in the Six Nations and have been around, so they will draw confidence from those experiences."
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Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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