- Kyle Eastmond will make second Test start at Eden Park on Saturday
- “I’d like to get involved and bring energy to the team” – Eastmond
Friendly and approachable off the field, Kyle Eastmond exudes measured excitement at the prospect of facing the world champion All Blacks on the pitch at Eden Park on Saturday.
The Bath Rugby schemer will make his second Test start against New Zealand as one of eight changes to the starting line-up which played against Italy in the final round of the RBS 6 Nations.
Coming up against Kiwi legend Ma’a Nonu on a ground where the hosts have been on a 31-game winning streak since 1995 could strike fear into a two-cap 24 year-old, but not the rugby league convert.
Photo: Getty Images
Eastmond has delivered on the biggest stages in the past, not least as a fresh-faced 19 year-old when he scored all of St Helens’ points in the narrow Super League Grand Final defeat to Leeds in 2009.
And, like the rest of Stuart Lancaster’s young, buoyant England squad in New Zealand, he has clarity of his role in the team and how it fits into the bigger picture. Concentrating on the process instead of the opponent, stadium or history of the fixture allows the players not to get overawed by the occasion, as Eastmond explains.
“I found out early in the week, Stuart has one-on-ones with the players and he told me I’d be starting, so I’m really happy to get the opportunity,” he said. “It means a lot to me, anytime that you get the opportunity to play for your country is a great thing and I’m really looking forward to it.
“Obviously this is similar [to big games I’ve play in the past] but this is different because we’re here in New Zealand. There are a lot of people who are really interested in the game which is quite new for me. But it’s just one of those things; I just try to get on with it and not too much attention.
“I just try and do my work and enjoy it. We’re a team here and we work hard to make sure that we get our own jobs done. It wouldn’t matter who was playing to be honest, I think everybody will work hard and try to put in a good performance.”
Photo: Getty Images
Eastmond has been told to express himself on the pitch by the England coaches, who back young players to reproduce the rugby which has got them in the frame for international selection on the biggest stage.
“There are no big things that they say I need to do or big pressures that they’re putting on me,” he continued. “They just want me to do what I do, which is the same for everyone. There’s no point in coming here and trying to do something different, just do what you do and deliver the parts of your game.
“I obviously want to impose my attacking game. I’d like to get involved in the attack and bring energy to the team. If I can bring a bit of that as well of the other lads, then I think we’ll be alright.”
Another of Lancaster’s changes is the return of Manu Tuilagi – slayer of New Zealand in the record 2012 victory at Twickenham Stadium – to partner Eastmond in the centres. It remains to be seen whether imposing his attacking game will include sending Tuilagi careering through a hole in the All Blacks defence, but Eastmond’s eyes light up at the chance to try.
“He’s an awesome player isn’t he,” Eastmond smiled. “He’s a big strong ball-carrier and he puts in some big hits. It’s going to be nice to play with him and it’s going to be awesome to play with him. He’s a really good player, you’ve seen that yourself. Hopefully he brings that on Saturday.”