- England Forwards Coach demands even better in Dunedin
- Rowntree discusses use of Hartley, Vunipola and Lawes from bench
Graham Rowntree has been hard on his forwards in training this week and says victory over New Zealand can be achieved if England’s forwards reach their own standards on Saturday evening at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The tourists were ousted 20-15 in Auckland last weekend, Conrad Smith’s 78th-minute try putting them 1-0 down in this three-match series. Even so, the visiting pack produced a muscular, dynamic performance which the All Blacks found it difficult to live with at times.
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Buoyed by that, Rowntree has made just one change to his starting eight, replacing the unlucky blindside flanker James Haskell with Tom Wood – a hugely influential leader within the set-up.
Crucially though, the run-on pack will be bolstered by a replacements bench that now features Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola. Those three men were key figures in the 2014 RBS 6 Nations and Rowntree admitted they almost forced their way into the XV.
“They were very close,” he said. “They all started the season very well. There were some tough decisions, but when you come out here and play a game like the first Test – and we weren’t perfect by any means – we need some consistency.
“Guys like Geoff [Parling] played exceptionally well and I felt it was right that he start again with Courtney on the bench. When we bring him, Billy and Dylan on it brings us some fresh energy.
“That is vital. We don’t want to leave people like that on the bench for too long, either. It’s always a delicate balance as to when we bring people on. Sometimes you have to mirror when the opposition bring their reinforcements on as well.
“It’s a luxury having such a competitive squad at the moment but it makes for headaches in selection as well. There are some disappointed lads around but they understand that it’s a squad effort and everyone has a role.”
Throughout this week, Stuart Lancaster’s squad has exuded a determination to move on from a largely encouraging effort at Eden Park. In the pursuit of a third ever triumph in New Zealand, satisfaction has been far from the agenda.
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Stressing the need for clear thinking from first whistle to last, Rowntree reinforced such sentiment.
“There were elements of our game that went well, but they’ve got to be better," he said. "I’ve been hard on them all week because I have certain standards. If we measure ourselves by those standards, we’ll be a successful team.
“You’ve got to play until the 80th minute. The All Blacks have shown that with their victories over the years such as the one against Ireland [last November]. We’ve got to be doing that as well.
“You’ve got to have composure all the way from the first minute to the 80th, even the 100th – look at the Northampton-Saracens [Aviva Premiership] final. The more the guys can get used to doing that, the better.
“We’ve become a lot fitter as a team because we want to be pushing people in that last quarter. We’ve got some good firepower in a lot of facets of the game now, but we have to go up another gear from last week.”