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Do England stick or twist ahead of All Blacks clash?

England began their summer series with a comfortable 52-17 win over Japan on Saturday, but where does this leave them ahead of the two-test series against the All Blacks?

Steve Borthwick resisted the urge to just simply blood a new crop of players, and instead opted for what a majority full-strength team with a couple of adjustments.

And he was certainly rewarded for this selection too. Marcus Smith arguably played his best game in an England shirt to date. Smith was fully given the reigns to lead the attack in the absence of both Owen Farrell and George Ford, and it led to a lovely, free-flowing style of play.

His opening score had the trademark Quins flourish all over it, and he utilised the space around the field to really drive England up the pitch.

On just his second start in an England shirt, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso also proved he has what it takes to become a proper international star too. He consistently came off his wing to look for work and when given the ball in the wide channels he was also exceptional.

READ MORE: England player ratings: Half-backs shine in huge England victory in Tokyo

Other players like Henry Slade, Alex Mitchell and Harry Randall also impressed; and this will fill fans with plenty of hope building into the first test on the 6th of July.

However, there will still be some things England need to sure up if they hope to conquer the All Blacks this summer, and they need to do it fast.

Slow start could cost England against New Zealand

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England were on the back-foot for the opening 15 minutes. The speed of the Japanese attack led to a broken defensive system, but what was more worrying was the battle in the contact. England were consistently dropping off tackles, after being hit with the Japanese onslaught.

They simply cannot afford to do this against New Zealand. Whilst Scott Robinson’s team are still an unknown entity, the All Blacks are known for getting off to a fast-start and could easily run away with the game if England let them dominate the early exchanges.

As we saw against Japan, the speed of play created broken field, and New Zealand have players who thrive in this. Damien McKenzie, TJ Perenara and Mark Tele’a can cause havoc in broken field, with their ability to turn on the gas at any moment.

It will also bring out the best in Beauden Barrett, as he will really look to target the spaces and bring players like Rieko Ioane into the mix as well.

England need to make sure they start well, and don’t let New Zealand dominate the tempo of the game.

Improvements needed at the scrum

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The scrum seemed to be in a pickle early on too. Bevan Rodd is improving in this area, but he was targeted by an inexperienced Japanese front-row, which allowed them to dominate the first few encounters.

Rodd did sure up as the game went on, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Joe Marler where the scrum really turned a corner.

READ MORE: Six standout players from stellar International weekend

The same can be said for Dan Cole and Will Stuart too. It was an uncharacteristic opening from the experienced Cole, and was put under pressure right from the off.

He also managed to fix it as the game went on (maybe the ear rubbing helped?), but again the introduction of Stuart turned the scrum into a weapon rather than just a way to restart the game.

Time to blood a new face?

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The issues at the scrum will need to be fixed against a much more powerful, and experienced, New Zealand pack.

They will likely start with Ethan de Groot, Codie Taylor and Tyrel Lomax; with the even more experienced Ofa Tu’ungafasi a possibility from the bench.

To combat this, England could look to give bright spark Fin Baxter a go from the off.

The young Harlequins prop is arguably one of the best scrummagers in the Gallagher Premiership right now, and his stints against Bordeaux proved he has what it takes to beat players double his size, as he had behemoth Ben Tameifuna on toast for the entirety of the game.

Baxter also thrives with a good tighthead too, as it really allows him to go for the jugular, much like Ox Nche for the Springboks.

Dan Cole has proved he can do this against the best in the business, and will probably be there again.

How do you solve a problem like the back-row?

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The major selection choices ahead of Steve Borthwick will likely be who features in his back-row.

Chandler Cunningham-South gave a good account of himself in his first international start. He added some much needed power in the tight, and brought plenty of physicality in defence too.

Elsewhere, Sam Underhill really grew into the game. He was his typical self in defence, but with his new-found desire to be a ball-carrier he again provided some punch in the tight.

Ben Earl was also solid. He really got involved in the attack, but was also used in a really clever way to then bring Cunningham-South more into the game.

A few times, Earl would stand at first receiver, and then tip it to his back-row partner to charge through space, and this exact move helped him get over for his try.

The introduction of Tom Curry will also leave plenty of food for thought. Following his return from injury, Curry looks MASSIVE, and it’s all good size too. He really got stuck into it in the last 20, and was a constant menace around the park, but is it too early to put him in from the off?

6:2 spilt?

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England experimented at the back end of the game with how a 6:2 split could work, without actually using it. Charlie Ewels actually came on for Tommy Freeman in the game, which then shifted George Martin into the back-row and Ben Earl into the 12 channel (much to the delight of a certain pundit).

The 6:2 split is a growing trend in world rugby right now, but how would it look for England?

Ben Earl is already the ‘designated’ backline option to slot in, but amongst the forward replacements it would likely be an extra second-rower.

Both Sam Underhill and Ben Earl are brilliant players in the loose, but their stature means they aren’t your typical lineout options; but adding an Alex Coles or new arrival Nick Isiekwe onto the bench means there are some more options in this area.

England’s second-row options have all had experience in the back-row too, be it for club or country, which also adds plenty of versatility to the pack.

Possible England 23-man-squad to face New Zealand

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15 George Furbank

14 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso

13 Henry Slade

12 Ollie Lawrence

11 Tommy Freeman

10 Marcus Smith

9 Alex Mitchell

1 Fin Baxter

2 Jamie George (C)

3 Dan Cole

4 Maro Itoje

5 George Martin

6 Chandler Cunningham-South

7 Sam Underhill 

8 Ben Earl

Replacements

16 Theo Dan

17 Joe Marler

18 Will Stuart

19 Alex Coles

20 Nick Isiekwe

21 Tom Curry

22 Harry Randall 

23 Tom Roebuck

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