England face a daunting task in trying to overcome the All Blacks in Auckland on Saturday, with Stuart Lancaster's options slightly limited through injury.
The Aviva Premiership season has only just come to its end, with Northampton Saints crowned as champions, but there's no rest for his selections, who begin their Test series in intimidating circumstances.
Steve Hansen's reigning world champions will attempt to build on a 2013 that saw them become the first international team ever to win all of their results in a calendar year, and the first meeting promises to be a tense one as both outfits assess their opponents at Eden Park.
Date: Saturday, June 7
Time: 8:35 a.m. BST/3:35 a.m. ET
TV Info: Sky Sports 1 (UK), OSN Sports 1
Key Players to Watch
New Zealand: Julian Savea
With his international foundations firmly laid in 2012, Julian Savea was once again a marvel to watch for the All Blacks in 2013, and his contributions at last summer's Rugby Championship will have surprised even his most avid admirers.
Saturday's fixture brings the 23-year-old back to where it all began, the location at which he scored a hat-trick of tries on his New Zealand debut against Ireland back on June 9, 2012.
That is if the winger is to feature at all, however, with SuperSport revealing that a knee injury sees Savea as a doubt for this weekend's matchup, although Hansen has ample cover on the flanks should the Hurricanes star be ruled out.
Ex-England centre Will Greenwood noted just how potent an attacking talent Savea was during last year's Autumn internationals:
Julian Savea is lethal. I thought Franks boys were incredible off the bench. Retallick never stopped. Luatua Messam combo wow...— Will Greenwood (@WillGreenwood) November 24, 2013
Save for Chris Ashton, Lancaster's wing are a particularly inexperienced bunch, with Marland Yarde, Anthony Watson and Jonny May boasting just eight caps between them, and Savea is already a well-founded asset on the international scene, capable of lighting it up against any counterpart.
England: James Haskell
Having enjoyed one season with the Highlanders in 2012, James Haskell has some knowledge of what it means to take on the stars of this New Zealand side.
Speaking on Sky Sports' Rugby Club, the Wasps talisman divulged some of the details regarding his time south of the equator, insisting this All Blacks side, despite the respect they command, are very much human:
I think that I learnt that the All Blacks are human, which is always a good thing. It is always very easy when you spend a lot of time watching highlights on Sky of the Super 15 and internationals. They go as a blur and these guys [look] immortal, they are unbelievable and they are playing some sort of brand of rugby that we don't know how to do over here.
When you are facing the haka and the whole culture it is very easy to get caught up in the headlights and I think a lot of these boys won't believe that because they have had these opportunities to play the All Blacks at Twickenham. They beat them once and pushed them very hard a second time.
Haskell has received a second chance under Lancaster this summer after enjoying a stellar season at Adams Park, during which he helped Wasps reclaim their spot in the Heineken Cup, and any impact he's to have on Saturday will be against one of the deepest back-row reserves in the world.
Ma'a Nonu vs. Manu Tuilagi
There still lies a sense of uncertainty over how Lancaster plans to shape his best XV in a summer tour that will have some sense of experimentation to it, but one battle we can certainly expect to see as much as possible is that of Ma'a Nonu taking on Manu Tuilagi.
Intensity, physicality and animalistic tendencies will be some of the coals that stoke the fire of this rivalry, with two of the biggest midfield bruisers in the sport set to clash once again.
Sky Sports' Alex Payne has opened up to the possibility of Tuilagi shifting to a less familiar inside centre role:
@pduckhouse Good shout, maybe Haskell at 6, Tuilagi 12, Joseph 13? And as of today, Burns at 10. We're debating it tomorrow.— Alex Payne (@SkySports_AlexP) May 21, 2014
Tuilagi is now well-recovered from the chest injury that saw him miss the majority of Leicester Tigers' season, and depending on where Lancaster plans to field his centre—if in the centre at all—fireworks are likely to set alight in Auckland.