England will prepare for the 2015 Rugby World Cup with a three-Test series against New Zealand next summer.
The RFU announced the tour dates Monday, which will also include a game against club side Canterbury Crusaders.
1st test June 7 - Auckland, 2nd test June 14 - Dunedin, tour match June 17 v Crusaders, 3rd test June 21 - Hamilton #SSN— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) December 2, 2013
Per Sky Sports, England head coach Stuart Lancaster said playing the world champions in their own backyard will be “the ultimate test.”
We saw in the Rugby Championship and the QBE Internationals what a formidable team and rugby nation New Zealand is. This is our final tour before the World Cup and is massively important for us to benchmark ourselves against the number one team in the world.
Lancaster’s men will kick-start their tour against the All Blacks on June 7 at Eden Park in Auckland.
They then travel to the South Island for the second Test in Dunedin on June 14. England will be familiar with the Forsyth Barr Stadium, which was the destination for three of their World Cup fixtures in 2011.
A midweek clash against the Crusaders—the home club of both Dan Carter and Richie McCaw—will follow on June 17, before the third and final test against the Kiwis in Hamilton on June 21.
“Playing three Tests and a midweek match will give us the opportunity to take 35 to 40 players who will get a chance to lay down a marker 15 months out from the World Cup,” said Lancaster, per Sky Sports.
England will likely be without some key players for the first Test in Auckland. Those involved in the Aviva Premiership final, which takes place May 31 in Twickenham, are expected to be in New Zealand for the first test but are unlikely to be involved.
England will be hoping to lay down a marker against the world champions before they play host to the 2015 World Cup.
England and New Zealand won’t meet before the semi-final stage at the World Cup, and if they both top their respective pools then they won’t face off until the final.
The two sides last clashed in November’s Autumn Internationals. New Zealand avenged their 2012 defeat to England by clinching a 30-22 victory in London.
The All Blacks went unbeaten throughout 2013 with 13 wins from 13. They preserved their unbeaten record with a last-gasp try against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in their last game of the season.