Tuilagi Back At Centre, Ashton Starts
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Head coach Stuart Lancaster has overhauled the England backline for Saturday’s final Test against New Zealand at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.
Kyle Eastmond and Manu Tuilagi have been reunited in the centre, while making his first start since the autumn, the revitalised Chris Ashton returns in the No 14 jersey for the encounter.
The Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell partnership that flourished throughout the Six Nations has been disbanded following the 28-27 defeat in Dunedin that completed a series triumph for the All Blacks.
Instead, Eastmond and Tuilagi have been offered the stage to reproduce the fireworks that lit up Eden Park in the first Test in a selection Lancaster insists is based on form.
Twelvetrees has paid for his erratic display at the Forsyth Barr Stadium with Lancaster admitting it was a “big step” for him to play his first match since May 3 in that game.
Fitness was an issue for Twelvetrees having been sidelined by an ankle injury for six weeks, and while he will be given another chance at a later date, there is a sense that England are losing patience with the Gloucester playmaker.
“This is a reflection of us feeling that the centre partnership worked better in the first Test than in the second,” said Lancaster, who has picked Burrell on the bench.
“We are still finding out which players can and can’t really deliver at the highest level. We’ve had a good chance to look at Billy during the course of the season.
“Kyle’s had one opportunity and he’s taken it. Now’s the right time to give him a second chance.
“Billy wasn’t that far off it at the weekend, but when I look at the two games I thought Kyle edged him.
“We want to finish the tour and the season on a high and we have a fantastic opportunity on Saturday. Our aim was to win a Test series and we are disappointed that we haven’t but I am confident the players selected will go all out to achieve the win on Saturday.
“We want to finish the tour and the season on a high and we have a fantastic opportunity on Saturday. Our aim was to win a Test series and we are disappointed that we haven’t but I am confident the players selected will go all out to achieve the win on Saturday.”
“We have progressed as a squad during this tour and while there has been challenges with the end of season scheduling affecting selection it has been a great opportunity to work with a wider group of players and test many of them at the highest level in the build up to the World Cup.”
Owen Farrell’s tour-ending knee problem means Freddie Burns, another standout player at Eden Park, starts at fly-half with Ben Youngs holding off a strong challenge from Lee Dickson in the absence of shoulder-injury victim Danny Care.
Following a fine display in Tuesday’s 38-7 victory over the Crusaders, Danny Cipriani has been chosen ahead of Stephen Myler to provide specialist cover at 10.
Hooker Dylan Hartley, lock Courtney Lawes and number eight Billy Vunipola return to freshen up the pack with Rob Webber, Joe Launcbury and Ben Morgan dropping to the bench.
Geoff Parling continues in the second row with Lancaster describing him as England’s “outstanding forward” in the series so far.
England team to face New Zealand:
M Brown (Harlequins); C Ashton (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), K Eastmond (Bath), M Yarde (Harlequins); F Burns (Leicester), B Youngs (LeicesterTigers); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), D Wilson (Bath), C Lawes (Northampton Saints), G Parling (Leicester Tigers), T Wood (Northampton Saints), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Vunipola (Saracens).
Replacements: R Webber (Bath), M Mullan (Wasps), K Brookes (Newcastle Falcons), J Launchbury (Wasps), B Morgan (Gloucester), L Dickson (Northampton Saints), D Cipriani (Sale Sharks), L Burrell (Northampton Saints).
*Source: Sky Sports