I’m pretty much a glass half full sort of bloke most of the time – especially when someone else bought it for me (even better if it’s a stein rather than just a pint). However, I find myself feeling more than a little apprehensive about the game at Eden Park on Saturday evening (breakfast our time).
Everyone knows about the cock up in the fixture date for a start (and the intransience of the NZRU in refusing to delay a week) but now the news now coming out of Auckland is about as welcome as seeing Eric Pickles rock up to your buffet.
Not only shorn of players from the Premiership Final teams, Billy Twelvetrees is out and now Danny Care is likely to be missing – making an already uphill task look like an assault on Everest without sherpas’ or oxygen.
For me my glass of beer is not just evaporating, it’s being knocked right out of my hand.
I accept this sounds defeatist and I hope against hope I am wrong but the odds don’t look good – 8/1 for England and 1/16 on an All Black win. They are also giving pretty decent odds in Auckland on the margin of difference (to NZ, obviously).
Its some twenty years since they lost at Eden Park, England have only won twice in NZ – 1973 and 2003, 968 v 299 caps and apart from Read, Carter and Savea they are at full strength. With respect to the England players – some of them weren’t even first choice for their Premiership sides.
Stuart Lancaster has always said he has a policy of picking on form rather than reputation – he demonstrated this when he dropped Chris Ashton from the squad last year. Given that, I am amazed at his choice at fly-half – I’m told that Freddie Burns is at number 10 because he knows the plays and the systems England use. I imagine he was fairly au fait with the Gloucester systems too, that worked so well that Billy Twelvetrees ended up having to play at stand-off at Kingsholm. Kyle was also out of favour at Bath at the end of the season.
Despite Metallick not knowing the England players, you can be certain that Hansen will have targeted our inexperienced midfield – although I suppose we can always hope he’s been playing Angry Birds instead of watching Premiership matches.
Cipps may have had his problems but his form surely put him at fourth rather than fifth in the stand-off pecking order.
The England camp sound as if they are up for it – good for them – personally I’d look for damage limitation this week and take it to them with the reinforcements from Saints and Saracens in the second test. But maybe our best chance is in the third game when Hansen may well experiment with new combinations and players – as of now, I’d settle for going down in the series 2-1.