England Rugby: Stuart Lancaster's men face ultimate challenge against world champions New Zealand

Chris Robshaw must lead England as huge underdogs against the All Blacks this weekend
Chris Robshaw must lead England as huge underdogs against the All Blacks this weekend

Simon Mail previews the first Test where an under-strength England are rank outsiders against world champions New Zealand...

"While a home win does look a near formality there is no reason why the visitors cannot make it closer than expected."

New Zealand v England
Saturday June 7, 08:35
Live on Sky Sports 1

England face the ultimate test this summer as Stuart Lancaster's side face a three-match series against world champions New Zealand. All the odds are stacked against next year's World Cup hosts and it is fair to say the performances over the next few weeks will be scrutinised much more than the results with home wins widely expected. 

The visitors' hopes are not helped in this opener by the fact they are missing the internationals that featured in the Premiership final at Twickenham last weekend. This scheduling has undoubtedly hurt England's chances but on the flip side, they have the opportunity to test out other players that will be hungry to make an impact. 

England's team selection has been restricted based on the unavailable members of the squad. But this has given a rare opportunity to players such as fly-half Freddie Burns and Kyle Eastmond at inside centre. The side suffered a late setback when scrum-half Danny Care was ruled out with a shoulder injury with Ben Youngs taking his place. Danny Cipriani starts on the bench in his first squad appearance for six years. Lancaster can at least call on captain Chris Robshaw who provides a wealth of experience in a young team.  

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen must manage without Kieran Reed because he is still suffering from concussion. Jerome Kaino replaces him in at number eight while Cory Jane comes in for injured wing Julian Savea. Aaron Cruden starts at fly-half with Dan Carter still unavailable following his sabbatical. 

The hosts have an exceptional record at Eden Park where they are unbeaten in 20 years. New Zealand have won their last 30 matches on home soil and it will take something very special to halt this record. The side also managed to win all 14 matches in 2013 and will be determined to keep this remarkable run going. 

New Zealand have only lost one of their last 35 Tests but significantly this came against England at Twickenham in 2012. The All Blacks won the most recent clash between the sides 30-22 in November and have claimed victories in ten of the last 11 meetings. However New Zealand's last three wins over them have been decided by 13 points or less so England have not been overwhelmed by them. 

The All Blacks are heavily odds on favourites for this match and it is easy to see why. But perhaps England are being written off too quickly because there are still quality players in their side with points to prove. While a home win does look a near formality there is no reason why the visitors cannot make it closer than expected. With a handicap of 20 in their favour, it could be worth backing England to keep it inside this margin. 

But New Zealand are fancied to get off to a fast start at Eden Park and it would be no surprise if they scored early on. It looks worth backing a home try as the first scoring play of the Test. There is also scope in taking prolific wing Ben Smith to score. The All Blacks back has scored nine tries in the last 11 matches for his country and can add to this tally against England. 

Recommended Bets:
Back England +20 in the Sportsbook at 2.35/4
Back New Zealand try in first scoring play at 2.8815/8
Back Ben Smith to score a try anytime at 1.9110/11

Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster

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