|1.||Tony Woodcock – Gnarled old stager who has over 100 caps. Will give nothing away in the tight and is capable of handy bursts with ball in hand.||7.5||Joe Marler – Has had a superb season and is far from the liability in the scrum he once was. Powerful ball carrier.||7.5|
|2.||Dane Coles – Has been in superb form for the Hurricanes. A real threat with ball in hand, but his lineout throwing will be targeted.||7.5||Rob Webber – Has had a solid season for Bath, but persistent injuries have hampered his progress. More of a solid set piece man than ball carrier.||7|
|3.||Owen Franks – Has found himself out of favour at the Crusaders this season, and will have to work hard to contain Marler’s scrummaging power.||6.5||David Wilson – Excelled in Dan Cole’s absence this season, and, like Marler, is hugely powerful in both the tight and the loose.||7|
|4.||Brodie Retallick – A better ball-carrying lock there is not. Has a great pair of hands, too.||8.5||Joe Launchbury – The baby-faced assassin will run himself into the ground, as usual. Insatiable work-rate and a fantastic support player.||8.5|
|5.||Sam Whitelock – The man charged with running the lineout, which will be a key battle. Loves to carry in the wide spaces, too.||8||Geoff Parling – Like his opposite number, he is the set piece maestro. Fitness is a concern, but like Launchbury gets through a mountain of work in the loose too.||7.5|
|6.||Liam Messam – A phenomenal athlete and mainstay of this All Blacks side for some time now. Given the competition, that speaks volumes of his value.||8.5||James Haskell – Has had a storming end to the season, and will need to be at his physical best against this New Zealand trio.||7.5|
|7.||Richie McCaw (c) – The breakdown master, who lives right on the boundary of legality. Despite his age, McCaw is still the heartbeat of this side.||8.5||Chris Robshaw (c) – Mr consistent, Robshaw will work as hard as anyone on the pitch, but just doesn’t quite have the star quality of his opposite number.||7.5|
|8.||Jerome Kaino – The loss of Kieran Read is softened by this man’s hugely impressive form for the Blues. Strong ball carrier, and loves an offload.||8||Ben Morgan – Poor form at Gloucester has not stopped him stepping up for England in recent times. Will be England’s key source of front foot ball in the tight.||7.5|
|9.||Aaron Smith – Has been at the heart of the Highlanders’ revival this season. Likes to snipe, and delivers brilliant service to his 10.||8.5||Ben Youngs – The loss of Care is a huge blow. At his best Youngs is capable of matching, or even bettering, Smith, but his form simply hasn’t been there this season.||6.5|
|10.||Aaron Cruden – Might be a touch rusty after only recently returning from injury, but is a visionary in attack and has all the talent to set free a lethal set of backs.||8||Freddie Burns – A huge, huge ask for Burns who just hasn’t had any confidence or form this season. Needs to dig deep and find a way to step up.||6|
|11.||Cory Jane – Has been scoring for fun this season in an insanely talented Hurricanes backline. Not as powerful as Savea, but more elusive.||7.5||Jonny May – Has so much potential, but we just didn’t see it in the Six Nations where he appeared to lack the confidence to back himself. Must do that here.||7|
|12.||Ma’a Nonu – Poor club form never seems to translate to the international stage. Put a black shirt on him, and he’s one of the best centres in the world.||8.5||Kyle Eastmond – A complete enigma in midfield. Has so much talent, but ended the season second choice at Bath. His combination with Tuilagi could be a great one, though.||7.5|
|13.||Conrad Smith – The glue that holds the whole team together. Such an intelligent rugby player, and there’s still plenty left in the legs, too.||8||Manu Tuilagi – The one player the All Blacks will fear. In an inexperienced England side, he has to step up and be their main attacking weapon.||8.5|
|14.||Ben Smith – Top try scorer in last year’s Rugby Championship, he is one of the most elusive finishers around. Swerving running style and brilliant sidestep.||8.5||Marland Yarde – Impressed in fits and spurts in the Autumn Internationals last year, and finished the domestic season strongly. Could really lay a marker for the future.||7.5|
|15.||Israel Dagg – Has not hit the heights of previous seasons domestically so far this year. Still a potent counter-attacker, though, and loves to join the line in attack.||8||Mike Brown – It is not hyperbolic to say Brown is one of the best players in the world right now. Like Tuilagi, needs to step up and lead the attack.||9|
An eight point gap above is probably a fair reflection of these two teams. New Zealand have all the experience and there is a really settled sense to that teamsheet – even though they are missing the likes of Read, Carter and Savea. As this is the first test of their international season, they could be a bit rusty, but once they’ve blown the cobwebs away they have the talent across the park to play some serious rugby. With the likes of TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett and the sensation that is Malakai Fekitoa to come off the bench, too, there will be no respite for England.
And what of the visitors? Shorn of several first team regulars due to some abysmal bureaucracy, the more experienced members of the squad – the likes of Marler, Launchbury, Tuilagi, Brown – need to step into the breach and show the leadership they haven’t had to in the past. There are some real game-changers in the team, and the axis of Burns-Eastmond-Tuilagi is, if everyone plays to their best, seriously potent. A lack of form and game time together, however, means that is unlikely to happen.
New Zealand will take a while to get into gear, but once they do, expect them to pull away from England who will keep themselves in touch initially through pure grit. As they tire and that lethal All Black bench empties, however, the game will get away from them. New Zealand by 18.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images