Buoyant England prove they are contenders in NZ series

Shorn of several first-choice players, his unheralded side frustrated a rusty New Zealand team in the first match at Eden Park before Conrad Smith scored a 78th-minute try to clinch a 20-15 victory.


Lancaster has spoken openly about using the three-match series as an opportunity for him to develop depth and to see where his young side is placed just over a year out from the 2015 World Cup they will host.

He named 10 players in the 23-man squad who had less than 10 caps each for a match at Eden Park that was supposed to be a cake walk for Richie McCaw’s world champion All Blacks.

Instead they harassed and frustrated the home side into numerous errors in execution and discipline and slowed the tempo of the game by not allowing them to develop any rhythm.

They also stymied their vaunted counter attacking back three with a superb kick-chase game that forced the normally safe Israel Dagg, Ben Smith and Cory Jane to drop balls they would ordinarily field and return with interest.

While the All Blacks were openly frustrated at their execution, Lancaster indicated his side were just as annoyed they had not been able to snatch at least a draw and would use that motivation for the second test in Dunedin.

“The overriding emotion in the changing room is frustration at having not got across the line, despite having done so much good work,” Lancaster told reporters after the match.

“We’ll learn a lot from this game. We do that well as a team and we learn quickly.

“They will definitely improve but we will as well.

“It’s a massive game for us now. We have always believed coming into this series we can (win it). So next week’s game is huge for us because we want to tie the series and go to a decider in Hamilton believing we can win it.”

Lancaster’s biggest decision is likely to be at flyhalf and inside centre with Freddie Burns and Kyle Eastmond both exceeding expectations at Eden Park.

Burns slotted four penalties, had a sound tactical kicking game, never shirked a tackle in the first line of defence and could force Lancaster to take a second look as to whether he restores Owen Farrell to the pivotal slot.

The inexperienced Eastmond was also expected to be monstered by the much bigger Ma’a Nonu but his all round game complemented the impressive Manu Tuilagi, who constantly barrelled over the advantage line.

Number eight Ben Morgan and blindside flanker James Haskell also impressed and incumbent Billy Vunipola could be worried about his starting role, particularly given Morgan and Haskell’s workrate and deft passing out of contact.

Selection headaches aside, Lancaster may also need to tell his side to expect a backlash from the All Blacks, who admitted they were nowhere near where they needed to be to win international matches.

“We gave ourselves a mark of around 70 per cent,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. “We’ll probably have to be 30-40 per cent better next weekend.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury. Editing by Patrick Johnston)