Stuart Lancaster admits he faces further selection headaches after a number of player laid impressive markers in a 38-7 victory over the Crusaders on Tuesday.
An experimental England side raced home six tries in Christchurch against the New Zealand Super Rugby conference leaders and the tourists’ defence stood tall when tested, prompting problems for Lancaster, who will name his 23-man squad for the final Test against the All Blacks on Wednesday.
Joe Gray, Ben Foden, Brad Barritt, Alex Goode, Anthony Watson and Chris Pennell all raced home, while the efforts of Danny Cipriani, James Haskell, Matt Kvesic and captain Ed Slater will not have gone unnoticed as England claimed their first victory in the penultimate game of their four-match tour.
Selection issues have been a recurring theme of this New Zealand tour for Lancaster, but his ever-expanding squad displayed encouraging signs of strength and depth with the World Cup arriving in Britain next year.
“I do think it’s a tough selection and for lots of reasons,” Lancaster told Sky Sports.
“But positive selections and I keep coming back to the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do, get a squad ready for a World Cup in 12 months’ time and today was a great marker for us.”
When quizzed on his team-sheet for Saturday’s curtain call, which sees England bid to restore pride after back-to-back Test defeats, Lancaster remained coy but admits several players excelled at the AMI Stadium.
“All 23 lads performed well, I was desperate for them to do well because they’d worked hard and waited patiently for their opportunity,” he added.
“I was just hoping that they would put in a performance that would make them proud and us proud and I thought they delivered that.
“The Crusaders were a tough side and they really played with such pride but I would have taken that score line at the start of the day.”
After a free-flowing opening period, England were subject to a defensive testing in the second half and Gloucester flanker Kvesic was singled out by the England coach as the stand-out performer having completed 17 of the 19 tackles he attempted.
“For me the man-of-the-match was Matt Kvesic, I thought he was outstanding, the best game I’ve seen him play in a long time,” Lancaster claimed.
“But there will be others when we look back at the tapes I’m sure.”
There was barely time for the capacity Canterbury crowd to draw breath as England made a splintering start, with Joe Gray and Ben Foden both touching down as the tourists amassed a 12-0 lead in six minutes.
“It was a very fast start,” said Lancaster. “Ben Foden’s try was a special one to add to it but in the second half they dominated territory and possession so it was nice for Chris Pennell to get that try at the end.
“I thought the breakdown was hotly-contested in the second half and they put us under pressure there, but our defence has been outstanding.
“Andy Farrell [England’s defensive coach] deserves credit for that and the boys have really bought into it.”
One man familiar with the surroundings in Christchurch was Haskell, who spent a year with Super Rugby side the Highlanders before returning to London Wasps in 2012, and the flanker revealed how much victory means to the wider squad.
“It’s massively important, the Test team are watching and we’ve had two narrow defeats so if we can win we put a bit of buzz back in the camp,” he said.
“That’s what we want to do and there were a lot of frustrated guys who just wanted to get out there and play.
“England bases itself around defence and you have to be solid in that area to be successful and I think we got a lot of tries from our defence tonight.
“I think the whole object of us coming out here tonight was to make the coach’s life as difficult as possible and the dirt-trackers did well tonight, obviously we’re just here to support the Test team and if boys get called up, great, but if not we got the result.”