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Coach's hands tied for summer Test

Stuart Lancaster admits he is powerless to prevent England from playing the first Test of their summer tour to New Zealand with a weakened team.

The opening international against the All Blacks is scheduled for June 7, one week after the Aviva Premiership final at Twickenham.

The proximity of the dates means Lancaster is resigned to being unable to field his first-choice side until the second Test on June 14.

While England's head coach still regards the series as a worthwhile exercise, he accepts the scheduling issue will hamstring preparations for the opening international.

"I don't think it renders the series meaningless but it's certainly not ideal. I wouldn't have chosen this way," he said.

"There's nothing to be done at this point. It was an inherited situation I found myself in.

"We looked at the calendar but nothing could be moved and my understanding is that it was all set in stone years ago.

"We'll go into the first Test with 100 per cent commitment to win it.

"We'll have our Premiership finalists arrive after that and then we'll make decisions for the second Test."

Lancaster believes facing the World Cup holders without a full-strength team offers some benefits, although is still hoping for a final that does not feature Northampton, Saracens, Leicester or Harlequins.

"In my positive mindset it gives opportunities to lads who might not have had the chance to start against the All Blacks," he said.

"For example if it's a Saracens v Leicester final, Freddie Burns will get a chance to start which is not a bad thing for us. For creating depth it's actually a good thing.

"Around 38 players will go out to New Zealand and have a great rugby experience. My best-case scenario is Newcastle v Sale!"

The most grave area of concern for Lancaster to address before departing for the toughest assignment in the sport is a midfield that flopped once again in Saturday's 30-22 defeat.

Outside centre Joel Tomkins may have played his last Test for some time after struggling throughout the autumn, although he was not helped against the All Blacks by Owen Farrell's distribution.

Farrell lacks the craft to ignite England's backline, but Billy Twelvetrees grew into the distributor role at 12, justifying the management's faith in his ability.

Two British and Irish Lions centres in Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt are missing to injury, but only Barritt is expected to return for the RBS 6 Nations.

Wing also remains a problem position with Chris Ashton surely having exhausted Lancaster's goodwill, while Marland Yarde and Christian Wade are still novices.

"We need to develop more depth in these areas," Lancaster said.

"You can't overestimate the impact of losing the quality of the players we have lost, even the two young wingers who we were potentially going to blood this series.

"If you took four players out of the All Blacks team and had new combinations working together it would be challenging for them too."


From Belfast Telegraph