You fear for England over the next few weeks

Can Stuart Lancaster lead his men to a shock victory?
Can Stuart Lancaster lead his men to a shock victory?

Beating the All Blacks in New Zealand is a tough tasks at the best of times, yet alone at the current stage of the English national side. Alex Johnson investigates...

Not that the home nation will take any notice of the Red Rose, judging by the recent comments from Brodie Retallick, who failed to identify a single player from Lancaster’s team when asked in a pre-match press conference.

Playing the reigning world champions - who love nothing more than to inflict defeat on the English - with a second-string outfit in the opening Test suggests that June could be an embarrassing month for Stuart Lancaster and his men.

You can't doubt the character, conviction or quality of the current Red Rose squad but, by going into the first match of the tour with an understrength side, their belief could be sapped by the time they reach Dunedin for the second Test.

Traditionally, the All Blacks are slow starters. The upcoming encounter at Eden Park will mark their first of the new international season while the tourists, in theory, should be buoyant following a successful Six Nations tournament.

Unfortunately for Lancaster, circumstance has hamstrung this visit Down Under, which was supposed to be a set of games to celebrate a new era of English rugby.

There are fears that a young team, full of vibrancy and building impressively towards the World Cup in 2015, could have their confidence dented in New Zealand.

'Could' is the operative word. In the backline, Kyle Eastmond and Manu Tuilagi have the tools to form a mesmerising centre partnership while a back three of Jonny May, Marland Yarde and Mike Brown doesn't lack in pace, power or ability.

The half-backs of Danny Care, who was outstanding in the Six Nations, and Freddie Burns also have the ability to dominate matches if given the correct platform.

But rugby - and sport in general - is more than just players on a piece a paper. The challenge is for England to create a cohesive unit in two weeks and New Zealand isn't the place you would choose to do that, particularly when their side contains an almost endless list of world class individuals who have already established themselves on the biggest of stages. 

From outstanding second-row Sam Whitelock to one of the game's greats in captain Richie McCaw and dominant centres Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, this New Zealand team is a fearsome proposition.   

Steve Hansen may lack Dan Carter in the pivot position due to a sabbatical, but Aaron Cruden and the improving Beauden Barrett have proven to be more than able deputies.

Do New Zealand have any weaknesses? There aren't many, but there could be an argument that some of their players may qualify for a place in 'dad's army'.

Prop Tony Woodcock is certainly on his last legs and the ageing Keven Mealamu has been replaced by Dane Coles at hooker, who has so far failed to convince. Meanwhile it remains to be seen how long McCaw, Nonu and Smith will stay on the international scene.

Although they are typically well-stocked in most positions and have one of the most highly-rated young backs in the world in uncapped centre Malakai Fekitoa, England's sheer youth, pace and enthusiasm could catch the hosts by surprise. 

Not that the home nation will take any notice of the Red Rose, judging by the recent comments from Brodie Retallick, who failed to identify a single player from Lancaster's team when asked in a pre-match press conference.

If ever the tourists needed motivation then Retallick has provided it. It will be intriguing to see if one of the hard men in England's pack will target the Chiefs lock with any special attention in the opening Test on Saturday.

Irrespective of his slightly disrespectful comments, particularly when he was part of the outfit which suffered a record defeat to the same opponents in 2012, you can't see anything other than an All Blacks victory and a series whitewash.

England may test New Zealand in the first half at the weekend but, once the hosts get into their stride, there is surely only going to be one outcome.

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