Anton Oliver says England's youthful exuberance is a real positive for Stuart Lancaster
Last Updated: 06/06/14 6:18pm
England’s chances of beating New Zealand at Eden Park – where they have not lost in 20 years – has got even tougher with news that their most experienced back, Danny Care, joins a long list of unavailable first choice players.
A shoulder injury to Care has ruled him out of Lancaster’s young and experienced team and highlights a major concern for former All Black hooker Anton Oliver, who says it is not right for a team to be touring without their best players in their best possible state.
“This is going to be a very interesting Test series,” admitted Oliver to Sky Sports.“There has been a lot of commentary about it all, not only about the team’s themselves, but the season structure and why is it that England have not been able to send their top team over?
“I think that it is time that we have look at a global season just purely from a player welfare perspective. We see too many players playing far too much rugby. The modern player is getting bigger and bigger and the contact area is getting more and more physical – something has to give and that is usually when we see players breaking down.
I cannot remember the last time I saw a poor England pack and I think they will definitely match-up to New Zealand’s forwards.
“I feel for Stuart Lancaster and for England because they do not make the fixtures or set the season but the bottom line is that rugby is worse off and really suffers because we are not going to see England’s top players in action until the final Test – and even then they are going to be suffering from the toll of a hard domestic season. We want to see fixtures where the best teams can choose their best players and if we get a global season then neither side are at a disadvantage.”
Despite his reservations regarding this tour, he does think Stuart Lancaster will learn some valuable lessons about his players and is definitely not writing them off as some are.
“However saying all that I think this tour can only be a positive for Stuart Lancaster,” added Oliver who won 59 caps for the All Blacks.
“If they do really well and win then he has all these bright young talent to take forward and really develop. If they do not go so well then he has the chance to see who stands up and is counted when the team is under fire. Sometimes you find out more about players when the chips are down and their backs are against the wall than you do when they are winning. It is a valuable tour for Lancaster and his staff to observe his players on and off the field.”
As for New Zealand, well Oliver says there will be no resting on their laurels and that they would have drawn a line under last season’s incredible unbeaten run.
“No matter who the All Blacks face they are going to prepare just as hard – in fact they will look to come harder and faster than they did last season. They will be looking to get off to a good start and build momentum from there. There is talk about getting some new players into the mix but the World Cup is still 18 months away so there is time for that to still happen – I think Israel Dagg played one or two test before the last World Cup and played well enough to get into the squad.
"Steve Hansen will be looking to see his side return to the basics that made them so formidable last season – playing at speed and being comfortable with and without the ball. They will not change a lot but just introduce a couple of players to the All Black environment and perhaps try a few new tactical moves.
“The third test could be interesting though. If New Zealand are 2-0 up at that stage what will Hansen and his coaching staff do? Will they experiment and give some of these younger guys a start? By that stage it should be the full-strength England team who would be completely over their jetlag and raring to go. This is all hypothetical of course and I am not just assuming New Zealand will be 2-0 up at that stage. I’m just wondering what Hansen will do, as England will then be massively motivated not to go home on the back of a 3-0 series loss.
“New Zealand won’t be looking any further than Saturday though – just because Lancaster has not got his full squad it does not mean that the men wearing the white jerseys will run out with any less intensity, intent or vigour,” added Oliver.
“They will be up for this. The wonderful thing about youth is that sometimes you are ignorant to all the hype and you just go out and play in a fearless way. They are not intimidated by results from the past or by people’s reputations, they just go out and have a crack. If you can combine that youthful exuberance with a sense of belief – which I think Lancaster has instilled – then they can really cause some problems for New Zealand. I cannot remember the last time I saw a poor England pack and I think they will definitely match-up to New Zealand’s forwards. If they can get a platform to allow the youthful enthusiasm to let loose then they then they can really put new Zealand under some extreme examination.”
Anton Oliver was speaking on behalf of QBE, the business insurance specialist, official insurance partner of England Rugby. Visit www.qberugby.com