England facing All Blacks challenge


England facing All Blacks challenge

England will play Tests in Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton when they tour New Zealand next summer.

The series opens at Eden Park on June 7, continues at Forsyth Barr Stadium seven days later and concludes at Waikato Stadium on June 21.

One midweek match has been scheduled against seven-times Super Rugby champions the Crusaders in Christchurch on June 17.

Three of England's 2011 World Cup group matches were staged in Dunedin, where they defeated Argentina, Georgia and Romania, while Eden Park was the setting for their 19-12 quarter-final loss to France.

Head coach Stuart Lancaster views the itinerary as the ideal opportunity to narrow the gap on the All Blacks, who triumphed 30-22 in an enthralling contest at Twickenham last month.

"To play the world champions in their own back yard is the ultimate test," Lancaster said.

"We saw in the Rugby Championship and the QBE Internationals what a formidable team and rugby nation New Zealand is.

"This is our final tour before the World Cup and is massively important for us to benchmark ourselves against the number one team in the world.

"Playing three Tests and a midweek match will give us the opportunity to take 35 to 40 players who will get a chance to lay down a marker 15 months out from the World Cup."

However, Lancaster will be forced to field a weakened team in Auckland.

The first Test takes place just seven days after the Aviva Premiership final at Twickenham, and the proximity of the dates means Lancaster is resigned to being unable to field his first-choice starting XV until Dunedin.

France, Wales and Ireland will face the same complication following the Top 14 and RaboDirect PRO12 finals on May 31 for their 2014 tours of Australia, South Africa and Argentina respectively.

IRB chief executive Brett Gosper last week stated that steps are being taken to clear up any future confusion over when the international window opens.

England's 2014 tour to New Zealand (kick-off times TBC):

Saturday June 7: First Test - Eden Park, Auckland

Saturday June 14: Second Test - Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Tuesday June 17: Crusaders - AMI (Addington) Stadium, Christchurch

Saturday June 21: Third Test - Waikato Stadium, Hamilton.

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