Lancaster left with welcome selection dilemmas

New Zealand's Conrad Smith celebrates after scoring the winning try at Eden Park against England.
New Zealand's Conrad Smith celebrates after scoring the winning try at Eden Park against England.
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Manu Tuilagi is under serious consideration to start the second Test against New Zealand on the wing as England head coach Stuart Lancaster attempts to solve his midfield conundrum.

For the first time since Huddersfield’s Luther Burrell exploded on to the international stage in the Six Nations, Lancaster has his three first-choice centres fully fit and at his disposal.

Billy Twelvetrees has recovered from the ankle injury that forced him to miss the 20-15 defeat at Eden Park and Burrell is available again, having helped Northampton win the Premiership title.

Moving Tuilagi to the wing has been discussed before and the idea is being revisited as England seek to level the series at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.

It would be a risky option given the Leicester wrecking ball has barely played out wide since age grade, but Lancaster is confident he would be every bit as destructive if given licence to roam.

“We’ve got a potential option of playing Manu on the wing. That has been talked about in selection,” said Lancaster.

“We have not done that yet, but it’s certainly something that could happen. Manu would definitely be a handful on the wing.

“He has certainly got pace – he’s one of the quickest in our squad and can track back.

“He would be a significant threat off phase play and defensively he would be fine, he understands the system.

“Modern wings are used like (New Zealand’s) Julian Savea, who creates mayhem from the wing, and I’m sure Manu could do the same.”

Lancaster’s only concern over Tuilagi is his ability to challenge for kicks in the air but England’s head coach also highlighted that Marland Yarde and Jonny May – the wings in action at Eden Park –needed to improve in this department themselves.

Players from Northampton and Saracens watched the first Test from the stands and their availability for the second has caused selection dilemmas in several positions.

Ben Morgan is set to be retained ahead of Billy Vunipola with Tom Wood preferred to James Haskell, who is likely to be on the bench, and Courtney Lawes will slot in for Geoff Parling.

Owen Farrell is an automatic starter despite Freddie Burns’s fine display on Saturday and should be joined at half-back by Leeds product Danny Care, who is on course to recover from his shoulder injury.

Big decisions await in midfield, on the wing and at hooker where Rob Webber and Dylan Hartley are duelling for recognition.

No call will be made with a view to squad development, however, with Lancaster stressing that his only objective is picking the 23 best equipped to take the series to a decider in Hamilton on June 21.

“It certainly is a very tough selection position to be in, but a good one in lots of ways. There are difficult decisions across the board,” he said.

“The balance we want to achieve is what will help us win on Saturday because we can’t go into this game being happy to lose but having developed the squad. It’s got to be about winning the game.

“That’s always been the aim and the objective and the belief is there in the team.

“What will help the team win on Saturday is what ultimately tips the balance of selection.

“I think the changes we’ll make will give us an edge and that we’ll get another lift in performance for the second Test.

“Combine the attitude of players who have sat on the sideline with the frustration of the players that played the first Test and hopefully it creates a powerful motivator.”

Chris Robshaw refused to take any comfort from the heroic defeat in Auckland.

It took a 78th-minute try by Conrad Smith conjured in the wake of a brave decision by Aaron Cruden to separate the rivals in a fiercely contested opener.

England finished with heroes all over the pitch, among them the heavily maligned Burns and Kyle Eastmond, but Robshaw is unable to look beyond the result.

“We’re extremely proud of all the effort and that we were able to come here an do that, but we can’t be happy,” said the England captain.

“Because of the standards we set for each other now and the standards we play at, we’re here to win a Test series and it’s simple as that.

“We’re 1-0 down but there are two Tests left and we see the bigger picture.

“We genuinely thought we could win here.

“There’s no point stepping out on to the pitch if you don’t believe that.

“That’s the position we have got to with English rugby – we believe that.

“As a squad, we’re in a good place, but it’s one thing being in a good place and it’s another thing winning.

“We will get better.

“There’s one thing we have to do differently next week and that’s win.”

New Zealand: I Dagg, B Smith, C Smith, M Nonu, C Jane, A Cruden, A Smith, T Woodcock, D Coles, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, L Messam, R McCaw, J Kaino. Replacements: K Mealamu, W Crockett, C Faumuina P Tuipulotu, V Vito, TJ Perenara, B Barrett, M Fekitoa.

England: M Brown; M Yarde, M Tuilagi, K Eastmond, J May; F Burns, B Youngs; J Marler, R Webber, D Wilson, J Launchbury, G Parling, J Haskell, C Robshaw, B Morgan. Replacements: J Gray, M Mullan, H Thomas, D Attwood, T Johnson, L Dickson, D Cipriani, C Pennell.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).