Selecting England's Squad for New Zealand and Predicting 1st Test XV

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Selecting England's Squad for New Zealand and Predicting 1st Test XV
Sang Tan/Associated Press

England travel to New Zealand for a tour that will greatly inform Stuart Lancaster's thinking ahead of next year's World Cup. It is the toughest examination his players will face between now and when the tournament kicks off.

But gleaning the most he can from the series has been made a whole lot trickier thanks to a dog's breakfast of a schedule.

The May 31 date of the Aviva Premiership final between Saracens and Northampton means Lancaster will be without 13 players certain to be on the tour.

His side for the first Test on June 7 will therefore be somewhat understrength, a situation that former England hooker and Telegraph columnist Brian Moore believes makes the tour pointless. But Moore doesn't lay the blame at the door of the English club game's rulers, rather turning his guns on the All Blacks:

Nobody has yet been able to explain how New Zealand were able to persuade the International Rugby Board that the date of the first Test complies with the rule that the Test window runs from the second weekend in June.

The southern hemisphere have ruled that this is June 6-7 and that May 31-June 1 is the first weekend, which is strange given that one of those dates clearly has the word May in it.

But this is where the litmus test comes. England have been building what has been perceived to be a better depth to their playing group over the last 18 months, and we are about to see how deep that pool goes.

In December, the RFU announced Lancaster's touring party for these three Tests and a midweek game against the Crusaders could be as large as 40. Even if he takes that many, front row, second row, back row, fly-half, centre and wing are all areas lacking players who would or could be first choice for that match in Auckland.

But their understudies will be taking to the stage with the chance to stake their claims.

Here is the predicted squad, including those coming late to the party, followed by my pick for the first Test.

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