International Rugby

Power Ranking England's Squad on New Zealand Tour

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2014

Power Ranking England's Squad on New Zealand Tour

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    Stuart Lancaster may glean a selection of positive lessons from England's tour of New Zealand, but a 3-0 series defeat to the All Blacks will ultimately go down as a major disappointment.

    The Northern Hemisphere giants did take one win from their lesser-valued fixture against the Crusaders, but losses in Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton mean that there's no papering over the evident cracks in their squad.

    As is the case on almost every tour, Lancaster utilised an element of experimentation in his line-up, with debutants taking their first steps among the national ranks and some forgotten faces coming back into the reckoning.

    Looking at all four of England's matches in New Zealand, we rank the 47 players who travelled south of the equator. Amount of time played, significance of their involvement and the impact made by said player are just some of the factors taken into account.

     

    All statistics come courtesy of ESPN Scrum.

47. Michael Paterson

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    Having been born in Christchurch, featuring against the Crusaders will have been an emotional experience for Michael Paterson, with the Sale Sharks' lock called in as late second-row cover after playing against the Barbarians.

    That being the case, 13 minutes toward the end of the game didn't really give him a chance to shine, although Paterson played the line-out moves comfortably and tackled well.

46. Dave Ward

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    Dave Ward enjoyed a glittering 2013-14 season at The Stoop, but he was unable to translate as much in New Zealand, grabbing only a quarter of a game in the Crusaders contest, prevented from showing any real worth.

    His work at the set piece was largely fine, but Ward could have been more clinical in open play, giving up one penalty and allowing the opposition to slip by him on at least one occasion, carrying just once in total.

45. Richard Wigglesworth

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    Richard Wigglesworth was unable to find his way into the Test reckoning and played just 33 minutes of the second period when England took on the Crusaders.

    He did manage a rate of passing about as high as the man he replaced, Lee Dickson, but there wasn't much impact to be felt with the result already in the bag for England by the time he came on.

44. Nathan Catt

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    Mako Vunipola's knee injury initially gave Lancaster some concern at loosehead, but a strong Nathan Catt display in the 38-7 win over the Crusaders will have buoyed the visiting coach.

    More than five years after making his senior England debut, Catt was assured come scrum time and made five tackles in 24 minutes at Rugby League Park.

43. Matt Mullan

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    Despite an impressive season with London Wasps, the stars just didn't align for Matt Mullan in New Zealand as he was restricted to just 24 minutes of time on the pitch, featuring as a late substitute in the second and third Tests.

    The loosehead didn't commit any major errors during his time in play, but there also weren't many moments worthy of note.

42. Dave Attwood

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    Dave Attwood is another victim of supreme competition for playing time in his position, and the Crusaders fixture was the second row's only real chance to strut his stuff Down Under.

    That fixture predictably showcased Attwood's strengths at the line-out and his use as a support runner also came to the fore, as it did in the first and third Tests, where he was used as a late substitute in each.

    The Bath lock's defensive game wasn't at its smoothest, though, Attwood succeeded with 11 of an attempted 14 tackles.

41. Tom Johnson

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    It's an unenviable job trying to break into England's back row as a relative unknown right now, and Tom Johnson won't be numbering above the likes of Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw or James Haskell anytime soon following his tour production.

    Johnson played in the last 10 minutes of the first Test as a blindside replacement and shifted to No. 8 for an 80-minute match against the Crusaders.

    Neither match was particularly breathtaking on his part. From 10 carries in Christchurch, the flanker made up just three metres, and his work getting around the pitch could have been more efficient.

40. Kieran Brookes

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    One of three players receiving their first England caps on this tour, Kieran Brookes was given just four minutes on his debut, coming on for David Wilson for a late introduction in the first Test.

    However, Lancaster gave the Newcastle Falcon further reward in the final fixture, where he was brought into the melee on 56 minutes and used the time well, helping the England scrum win a penalty at his first attempt and registering a good couple of carries.

39. Kyle Sinckler

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    Still just 21 years of age, Kyle Sinckler looked comfortable during his 24-minute outing against the Crusaders, replacing Henry Thomas to give Lancaster another look at what he offers in the loose.

    Those were the Harlequins prop's only minutes of tour action, and although a couple of spillages may have prevented a spotless performance, there were clear positives to be taken from the starlet's experience.

38. Jonny May

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    Jonny May didn't feature with as much prominence this tour as he did during the Six Nations with Chris Ashton and Marland Yarde back in prime contention, but there were positives to be taken from his tour.

    The opening Test was May's only inclusion against the All Blacks, and although there wasn't a mess of opportunities for the Gloucester star to latch on to, he did look assured with ball in hand and was defensively sound for the most part.

    A cameo at outside centre against the Crusaders didn't give May a chance to show his proper array of skills, which are visibly more suited to the flank.

37. Stephen Myler

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    One might have thought that the 2013-14 Aviva Premiership final Man of the Match—whether rightly or wrongly awarded—would get some serious consideration for Lancaster's plans south of the equator.

    But alas, it wasn't meant to be, and Myler played just 33 minutes as an early second-half substitute against the Crusaders, constructing well and kicking one conversion but not enhancing his international reputation by any great margin.

36. Danny Care

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    Injury interruptions meant that 71 minutes in Dunedin's second Test accounted for all of Danny Care's involvement against New Zealand.

    And after resting on the sidelines for close to a month, the lack of match fitness was clear in Care's play, who started strongly but ultimately suffered in what looked to be a lack of familiarity with Ben Morgan at No. 8.

    Communication wasn't at a peak during the second Test and Care on too many occasions showed glimpses of the old, more mistake-ridden version of himself.

35. Henry Trinder

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    Gloucester fans will know that Henry Trinder is capable of the tremendous when at his peak, but there was no such thing to be seen in New Zealand.

    The centre played 56 minutes of the win over the Crusaders, showing some bright footwork and interlinking play, capped off with a setup for Alex Goode's try.

    It would have been nice to see more individual construction from Trinder, although his unselfishness doesn't go unnoticed.

34. Henry Thomas

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    Altogether a solid tour of building for the Sale Sharks man as Henry Thomas continued to assert himself as an international presence, coming on late against the All Blacks in Auckland before playing three-quarters of the Crusaders victory.

    Thomas' value as a strong presence in the loose was clear for all to see, failing to miss a tackle all tour and the tighthead's two turnovers in Christchurch were a particularly bright sign of his willingness to work.

33. Joe Gray

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    Joe Gray's first England start couldn't have got underway in better fashion as far as he'll be concerned, with the Harlequins hooker dotting down after little more than a minute against the Crusaders.

    The rest of the game wasn't quite so full of highlights, but Gray's tour was also blessed with a Test debut in the first New Zealand collision, where he played an unremarkable last 10 minutes in Auckland.

    Club teammate Ward replaced Gray with 20 minutes left to go in Christchurch, and it's indicative of his impact that the set piece didn't look quite as clean from that point.

32. Anthony Watson

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    Scorer of one of the best tries from England's tour, Anthony Watson's 58th-minute try against the Crusaders doesn't quite paper over what was otherwise a fairly average performance.

    The Bath winger did beat five defenders in Christchurch, however, his only New Zealand outing, and the promise is certainly developing into a fast and dangerous talent who will one day feature more prominently.

    Johnny McNicholl and Tom Taylor at times exposed some of Watson's defensive frailties.

31. Dylan Hartley

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    Given the fine form that Rob Webber showed, Dylan Hartley had a sizeable task in displacing the Bath player once he returned from his commitments in the Premiership final.

    Without the ball, Hartley did a fine job of hounding the New Zealand attack about the place, but the third Test, his only start, was a forgettable outing, exposing some wastefulness throwing into the line and in the loose.

30. Billy Vunipola

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    Billy Vunipola's third Test was marred by a first-half yellow card that his side certainly could have done without, and in a year of astonishing development, the tour to New Zealand will go down as one of the Saracens player's more forgettable periods.

    Altogether, the Saracens monolith played 80 minutes of rugby against the All Blacks, featuring for 24 minutes in Dunedin before then playing 56 minutes of the third Test, his only start with Premiership distractions accounted for.

    Far below that of his usual standards, Vunipola carried for a total of just 29 metres in those appearances, and he was made to look average at times by the All Blacks' back row.

29. Owen Farrell

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    After missing the first Test in Auckland, Owen Farrell's tour was limited to just 70 minutes against the All Blacks before injury saw him ruled out of the third fixture.

    And it was very much a familiar story for the fly-half: Reliable from the tee, interspersed with some moments of inspiration when carrying but a lack of discipline once again saw the penalty tally rise higher than should be expected, one of which earned him a yellow card.

    In a tour that could have been his to lead, Farrell didn't hit stellar heights by any means.

28. Lee Dickson

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    Lee Dickson was characteristically quick to promote fast ball during his start against the Crusaders, but his influence didn't go as felt in the first and third Tests, in both of which he came on during the second half.

    That's hardly surprising considering the scrum-half played only 10 total minutes against the All Blacks, and one might say that Dickson was functional, but not quite fantastic—some way off the standards set by Danny Care over the past year.

27. Ben Foden

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    England's 38-7 victory over the Crusaders put numerous members of Lancaster's squad in a far more amicable light than they perhaps deserve, but Ben Foden was one of the genuine standouts from the tune-up fixture.

    Shifting to the right wing, the Saints flyer looked adept and missed only one of his 12 tackling attempts, not to mention chasing down what may have seemed a lost cause to put his name on the scoresheet.

    A busy offensive display in Christchurch was, however, Foden's only appearance of the tour, but he made fine use of the few minutes he received.

26. Chris Ashton

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    The topsy-turvy England career of Chris Ashton underwent yet more change in the Southern Hemisphere; heroic national team finisher one minute, public enemy the next.

    Coming back onto the bench for the second Test, Ashton was introduced to soar over late in the 28-27 Dunedin loss, and as a result, he was returned to the starting XV in Hamilton.

    It's here that some may feel the more villainous side of Saracens' speedster came to play, where Ashton missed five of his attempted eight tackles, with Julian Savea running rampant down his flank on occasion.

    In fairness, the havoc elsewhere on the field didn't make Ashton's job any easier, but the lapses had a massive impact nonetheless.

25. Courtney Lawes

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    Steve James of The Telegraph proclaimed that Courtney Lawes "disappeared" in the wake of his 80-minute display during the third Test, but that may be slightly harsh on the Northampton Saint for what was his only start of the New Zealand tour.

    In that fixture, the lock still maintained standards at the line-out, as James admits, but his tally of 13 tackles and four turnovers also impressed.

    The lock's only other involvement came in the form of a 24-minute cameo in Dunedin, where he contributed six tackles as part of the 28-27 defeat.

24. Freddie Burns

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    Things began so brightly for Freddie Burns' tour, where a 100 percent tee-kicking performance in the first Test may have set tongues wagging as another elite No. 10 supposedly came into the frame.

    But in a third Test filled with low morale and hapless mistakes, he was one of those in the back line to be held accountable for the All Blacks' running progress, although he did score eight of his team's 13 total points with the boot.

    His defence would also be found to come up short in this fixture in what was quite the opposite to the confident Burns witnessed in Auckland. 

23. Alex Waller

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    Following on from another campaign of growth within the Northampton Saints pack, Alex Waller snapped up the only chance afforded to him on the tour of New Zealand, starring in the demolition of the Crusaders for 56 impressive minutes.

    A dominant English scrum was helped on by the young loosehead, who carried with a guile of one beyond his years and managed a number of handy offloads to boot.

22. Matt Kvesic

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    Eighty minutes at Rugby League Park was all Matt Kvesic received from Lancaster this past three weeks, but it's a testament to the flanker's performance that one may well consider him for future minutes solely off the back of that game.

    For the entire game, Kvesic was rabid in restraining the opposition's movement, finishing with 17 tackles, the highest number of any player in the fixture by some margin.

    His work at the breakdown was excellent and Kvesic offered a consistent presence in support, albeit not the strongest attacker around.

    It's unfortunate for the 22-year-old that such a talented pool of flanker assets sit ahead of him.

21. Alex Goode

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    It took Alex Goode just 56 minutes to score one try and assist another in Christchurch, the Saracens fullback's only outing of the tour and another fine example of what he can offer in the No. 15 jersey.

    Superb positioning, as has regularly been the boon for Goode in his career, was at the heart of his effectiveness, but he may have been tested more were the Crusaders not restrained so efficiently in all areas of the park.

    That being said, a good game is a good game, even against weakened opposition.

20. Danny Cipriani

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    Danny Cipriani didn't put a foot wrong upon his return to international rugby, which featured some impressive cameo appearances against the All Blacks and a very encouraging 47 minutes versus the Crusaders.

    It was his break that set up Gray's opening try in Christchurch's warm-up game, where the Sale Sharks' playmaker took the ball up often and held a strong defensive presence, forcing three turnovers and making eight tackles in total.

    In the first and third Test outings, Cipriani came on to show some classy surges despite not being gifted a great deal of time to shine, and his kicking was up to scratch for the great majority, missing just one conversion attempt.

19. Billy Twelvetrees

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    Having held such a fine account of himself as one of England's chief playmakers during the Six Nations, Billy Twelvetrees looked a near-opposite presence in New Zealand.

    The Gloucester man lacked the accuracy and confidence of his former self in the tight second-Test defeat, gifting possession to the All Blacks all too freely, and even without injury concerns, Lancaster was totally justified in dropping his No. 12 for the third Test.

18. Chris Pennell

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    Worcester Warriors may have been a dire outfit to watch for great stretches of the 2013-14 campaign, but if one had to choose an individual beam of light in their relegation season, it's fullback Chris Pennell.

    He was handed a forgettable minute or so of play toward the end of the first Test to mark his debut, but what Penell contributed against the Crusaders was far worthier of mention.

    Playing the last 24 minutes of that Christchurch clash, Pennell carried for 36 metres, scoring his first England try and setting up another to cap off a terrific season, and deservedly so.

    There may yet be more England days to come.

17. Luther Burrell

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    The midfield make-up of Luther Burrell and Twelvetrees that worked so effectively for most of the Six Nations simply wasn't up to scratch against a New Zealand side which looked to have done its research.

    In contrast to the relaxed, pressure-free figure we saw in that competition, Burrell looked on edge during the second Test, so eager to construct for his side that handling errors and defensive misjudgement were some of the main by-products.

    Collecting himself in time for the third Test, the Northampton Saints star was more useful in Hamilton, replacing Kyle Eastmond to offer a far more assured blockade, although that may not be saying much.

16. Kyle Eastmond

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    This was a tour of tremendous highs followed swiftly by damaging lows for Bath's Kyle Eastmond, who went from star man to dejected absentee in the space of two Tests.

    In Auckland, the former league star was electric despite defeat, providing a penetrative foundation for Manu Tuilagi to feed from and creating many a problem for Hansen's defence.

    What followed in Hamilton a fortnight later was something he'll look to forget in a hurry, where he was taken off as a halftime substitute after failing to cope with New Zealand's offensive threat in miserable fashion.

    It's a fear that many will have known existed coming onto this tour, and it is something that with great work can be corrected. Whether or not Eastmond has it in him to do so is up for debate, but his double-edged journey south undoubtedly had some positives.

15. Joe Launchbury

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    One of seven players who started in each of England's three Tests this summer, Joe Launchbury looked to be running out of steam by the time the 3-0 whitewash was through, initially dropped for the third New Zealand fixture before being added to replace the injured Geoff Parling.

    For the large part, the young Wasp was unremarkable, not responsible for any particular English damage but also not galvanising his side with much play worthy of note.

    Launchbury's offload did open the field up for Marland Yarde to cross over the line in the third defeat, and his work-rate was typically tireless, despite fatigue and any niggling injuries.

14. Rob Webber

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    Once again, Rob Webber weaved his way into Lancaster' roster for a summer tour, and the Bath figure looks to have added another name to the list of burgeoning front-row options at England's disposal.

    Like others on tour, Webber was one of those given an opportunity to shine in the absence of stars involved in the Premiership final, and with Dylan Hartley unavailable, he thrived.

    Webber started in the first two Tests and came on as a 58th-minute replacement in the third Test, throwing well in the line-out, offering some fine support lines in the loose and missing just one of his nine attempted tackles over the course of the trip. 

13. Ed Slater

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    What more daunting way to make your England debut than by captaining the national side against a Crusaders line-up which, while not all that threatening in the end, could have given Lancaster's men a tricky outing.

    Those were the cards dealt—or more earned—by Leicester's Ed Slater, who hustled his way around the Christchurch turf from minute one through to 80.

    In that win, Slater carried strongly, was a solid line-out rotation option and tackled with an assured stance, perhaps counting himself unfortunate not to find himself on the bench in Hamilton as a result. 

12. Joe Marler

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    Joe Marler was one figure at the root of England's superb scrum work during the first two Tests, but Harlequins' loosehead was near anonymous in terms of his on-the-ball impact for the entirety of the trip down south.

    Evidently tiring toward the end of England's New Zealand jaunt, even these strengths began to come undone in the third Test, though, where Marler's penalty count was too high, succumbing to the All Blacks at the set piece.

11. Brad Barritt

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    It's a pity that Brad Barritt's only time on the pitch in New Zealand came in the thumping of the Crusaders, where he looked every bit a cut above the rest, registering 15 tackles and pounding his way through the hosts' defence to finish a try typical of his brute-force approach.

    At times, Barritt is seen as strictly a defensive presence in midfield, tasked primarily with restricting the opposition more so than weaving magic with ball in hand, but in Christchurch, he was every bit the adept technician.

    The centre may understandably have been upset not to have been involved in the third Test, but Barritt is gradually making his way back into the England frame and can well be considered competition for the likes of Luther Burrell and Billy Twelvetrees after a strong display.

10. James Haskell

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    Deservedly receiving another chance in international colours after helping London Wasps reclaim their place among the European elite, James Haskell is now showing the signs of maturity that many will have been hoping to see for years now.

    Doing away with some of the more frustrating deficiencies that have been known to blight his game, Haskell started in the first Test and against the Crusaders, impressing more with his defensive graft than anything else.

    That's not to be looked upon as a negative, either, as the 29-year-old showed superb stamina to last 150 of a possible 160 minutes in those two games, hitting the ruck well and accounting for a lot of the dirtier, off-the-ball work.

9. David Wilson

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    The first two Tests against Steven Hansen's men were a fine symbol of how David Wilson has the capacity to be an England front-row star but small areas need cleaning up before that's to be the case.

    In Auckland, it was a string of handling errors that blighted an otherwise positive display, but sound scrummaging work was at the heart of the tighthead's game once again.

    That being said, the set piece did fall apart somewhat in the final All Blacks encounter, as it did with most, but overall this was a good tour for Wilson.

8. Ben Morgan

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    With Billy Vunipola distracted by an Aviva Premiership final with Saracens, Ben Morgan seized his chances as England's starting No. 8 for the first two Tests of the New Zealand tour.

    The Gloucester bruiser was one of the stars of the pack in an 80-minute Auckland shift, but he didn't make his presence as felt for the remainder of the trip.

    Morgan played a combined 80 minutes across the Dunedin and Hamilton clashes, where he carried for a combined 18 metres and made just six tackles. He ultimately failed to keep his place ahead of Vunipola, but after coming on in the third Test, he was arguably the better option at No. 8.

7. Ben Youngs

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    With Danny Care missing for the first and third Tests, Ben Youngs filled in as a fine replacement to once again throw his name to the front of Lancaster's scrum-half queue following a post-British and Irish Lions tour period outside the England spotlight.

    That being said, Youngs was still made to look amateur at times by a splendid Aaron Smith, but the same could be said for just about any No. 9 right now under suitable circumstances.

    His box kicking appears to have improved and Youngs was a much improved defensive unit in Hamilton, making seven tackles and missing none compared to the three missed and two made in Auckland's opener.

6. Geoff Parling

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    The standout lock of the New Zealand tour, it was a shame to see Parling's hamstring keep him away from the third Test, where his influence was desperately missed when put in contrast against his first two showings.

    The Leicester Tigers lock was pivotal in both Auckland and Dunedin, taking a cumulative 10 balls from the line-out and recording a monumental score of 18 tackles in the latter game.

    In terms of carrying, Parling perhaps could have added more to the mix, but his endeavours off the ball and in laying the set-piece foundation were terrific.

5. Tom Wood

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    Northampton Saints' Premiership final victory over Saracens kept Tom Wood out of the first Test, but once his presence had been felt among the squad once again, the flanker was practically an untouchable asset for the starting XV.

    Long have people critiqued that playing him and Chris Robshaw simultaneously doesn't bring a varied enough skill set to Lancaster's back row, but analysing Wood's individual efforts, there wasn't much more he could have contributed given his usual priorities.

    Dogged work, tireless running and an average of 12 tackles per game in the 160 minutes he played point toward your typically reliable Wood standards.

4. Marland Yarde

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    While his years may be young, England may well have come upon their most talented winger in the shape of Marland Yarde, who at 22 years of age is showing there's a lot to come from his presence on the right flank.

    Just as he has for London Irish, the 22-year-old barrelled into the contact, but he was more than capable of showing the necessary guile when it was needed, scoring twice in three Test starts, each from the left side of the park.

    The third Test in particular showed what a mixed presence Yarde can be, though, where Cory Jane benefited from too many of his slip-ups, but the attacking probes made with ball in hand arguably made up.

3. Chris Robshaw

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    The captain will have been as disappointed as any to depart New Zealand without leaving so much as a scratch on the All Blacks—as far as the series scoreline is concerned—but one thing Chris Robshaw can be comforted by is his own output.

    Robshaw was one of just three players—and the only forward—to play every minute of the three-Test series, and inevitably it was his tackle count that stands out most, notching 15 in the tour finale, although he did also miss four in Hamilton.

    It's a testament to the Harlequins player's ability that the presence of Richie McCaw didn't outshine his own on the head-to-head level, with Robshaw offering good support—particularly in Auckland—and relying upon his impressive fitness to contribute well, albeit not quite dazzlingly, in just about every facet of play.

2. Mike Brown

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    Mike Brown showed nothing less than we've come to expect of him in New Zealand—and in the long term that could come to damage his success—but for now we'll enjoy his good form as England's Mr. Consistent.

    The 2013-14 Aviva Premiership Player of the Season played every minute of all three Tests, and it's a flattering symbol of his ability that even when faced with the most revered attack in world rugby, he missed just one tackle in those 240 minutes.

    Across the three Tests, Brown was far from his most spectacular, admittedly; after all, who can be against this All Blacks team?

    However, there was arguably nobody more secure in Lancaster's side than him, covering the high ball well, running hard from deep, as well as scoring one try and setting up another in the closely fought Dunedin fixture.

1. Manu Tuilagi

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    Our Player of the Tour is a predictable selection, but when there are gems as athletically malleable as Manu Tuilagi around, competition is hard to come by.

    The young Leicester Tiger was his usual destructive self when found in possession, carrying for an average of 73 metres per game, but after featuring so impressively when called onto the right wing for the second Test, Tuilagi is showing new, more versatile dimensions in his play.

    That cameo did also illustrate that the wrecking ball is much better utilised in midfield, but considering the stakes at hand, he coped brilliantly in his duties.

    The third Test, as it did with most, exposed some defensive gaps through Tuilagi's missed tackling, but his attacking contributions over the course of the tour compensate for any hiccups.

    England will be ruing Tuilagi's Six Nations absence all the more after displaying such a fine production rate.

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