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England's Dunedin dilemmas
Threatening to end New Zealand’s 20-year dominance of not losing at Eden Park might appease some coaches after a bruising season of club and international rugby.
Not Stuart Lancaster.
After watching the tourists come within two minutes of upsetting New Zealand on home soil for the first time in 11 years in Auckland and just losing 20-15, the England coach has a genuine headache ahead of the second Test in Dunedin on Saturday – but in a good way.
Ashton – who now mentors coaches from a variety of different sports and teams, including Manchester United – sums up Lancaster’s selection dilemmas.
No Auckland blues
“I know Stuart really well and he won’t be satisfied, because of what was on the scoreboard at the end,” says Ashton, who coached England to a World Cup final in 2007.
“He believes England can win the next game and the series. But to do that, they need to improve even more.”
It may sound like a well-worn cliché but the constant use serves its purpose – you can’t turn your back on the All Blacks for a second.
“That’s what they did for New Zealand’s decisive try [when down to 14 men] and it’s what they did in giving away a couple of silly penalties and knock-ons. The execution and concentration will need to be close to perfect.”
A Different League
England’s fledgling backline more than held its own against an All Blacks starting XV which featured five of the seven backs who started the World Cup final in 2011.
And the player who impressed Ashton is England’s newest convert from the 13-man game.
“I have a strong rugby league background and I loved Kyle Eastmond’s performance,” he enthuses. “He has great footwork – reminiscent of Jason Robinson’s – and showed that given an opportunity, he can open up any defence.
“It was great to see a real game-breaker, a player with X-factor, in the England midfield.”
That still might not be enough for Eastmond to keep his place though, as the midfield is set for a makeover in Dunedin.
“I’m pretty sure Farrell will come back in at 10,” says Ashton. “And Stuart has made it clear he wants a 12 who can play rugby and be a foil to the fly-half – as Will Greenwood used to be for Jonny Wilkinson – which points to Twelvetrees.
“He doesn’t have Eastmond’s X-factor, but he probably has more all-round attributes, with his distribution and kicking.
“There has been talk about Tuilagi – who was outstanding on Saturday – being moved to the wing, which I think would be a very interesting experiment.”
Lancaster’s depth in forwards would make any international coach green with envy, with cover for almost every single position in the set-piece.
“James Haskell came in from the cold and was very good, but Tom Wood will probably come back in,” believes Ashton when assessing the back-row composition.
“Ben Morgan probably had his best game for England, yet we have Billy Vunipola returning, so there is real depth and class at eight. It could be that only Robshaw keeps his place in Dunedin.”
Ashton describes Rob Webber as a “revelation” but the Bath hooker may have to give way to Dylan Hartley, while a Northampton team-mate is likely to slot back into the second row.
“Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury were impressive, but Courtney Lawes is back and is first choice,” says Ashton. And perhaps Dave Attwood, who came off the bench to good effect, deserves a chance to start after an excellent season.”
Get behind-the-scenes news from England’s players on tour in New Zealand with Player Diary from O2 in partnership with England Rugby, at www.O2InsideLine.com