England will go into Saturday's first Test against New Zealand as massive underdogs - and while that is nothing new for visiting teams, there is a genuine fear for what awaits Stuart Lancaster's men.
The crazy scheduling has meant England have had to head to Eden Park with a number of key players from Premiership finalists Northampton and Saracens missing, while injuries have not been kind to the tourists.
And although there is plenty of blossoming talent in England’s vanguard in Auckland, there is a distinct ‘Tour from Hell’ feel about the squad going into the first Test.
Back in 1998, Clive Woodward took a team of largely unknowns on a seven-match tour to the southern hemisphere which resulted in heavy losses to Australia and New Zealand as well as an 18-0 reverse to South Africa.
In total England lost those four Tests 198-32 and although a few players emerged unscathed from the tour – including Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Dawson, Josh Lewsey, Lewis Moody, Phil Vickery and Graham Rowntree – a number of players disappeared without trace.
Spencer Brown, Steve Ravenscroft, Tom Beim, Scott Benton, Ben Sturnham, Richard Pool-Jones, Dominic Chapman, Dave Sims, Stuart Potter, Jos Baxendell and Rob Fidler all won their first – and only caps – on the tour, while Matt Moore and Tony Windo made the trip without getting near the Test team and neither would get the chance to play for their country again.
Suddenly Brodie Retallick’s inability to correctly name any of the current England side doesn’t seem as foolish – although the New Zealand lock might regret calling Courtney Lawes ‘Michael Lawes’ by mistake when his Northampton counterpart does arrive in the country.
And ahead of the first Test in Eden Park we look back on what has happened to the nearly men of the 1998 tour
Former Richmond and Bristol winger appeared in two Tests on the two, making his debut in the 76-0 thrashing by Australia before returning for the 18-0 defeat to the Springboks. Having been a Royal Marine when the game turned professional, Brown has gone on to forge a career as a strength and conditioning coach.
The 43-year-old from Leeds made two appearances on the tour, with the Saracens centre making his debut against Australia before coming off the bench for the second Test loss to the All Blacks. Ravenscroft, who qualified as a solicitor before the game turned professional, went on to combine work with playing for London Welsh before hanging up his boots. He is now a partner at a global law firm in London.
The former Sale, Gloucester and Viadana winger’s debut came as an emergency fly-half against the All Blacks at Dunedin’s House of Pain, before he had to go head-to-head with the fearsome unit of Jonah Lomu in Auckland. He did tour with England again in 2002 although he didn’t make a Test appearance. He did, though, reinvent himself as an international polo player
Benton’s solitary England appearance saw England thumped in Brisbane, with the former Leeds, Sale and Gloucester scrum-half facing intense competition for the order for the No 9. He toured South Africa again in 2000 only for injury to end his hopes of winning a second cap. Benton now works as a teacher while he has coached at his home town club Morley and Huddersfield.
The Saracens, Bath and Bristol flanker appeared in three of the four Tests on the tour but although he was one of the success stories, his career was cut short by a serious knee injury. Sturnham, who played for England Sevens in 2001, went on to coach the academy at Bristol and Newbury Blues and is now a head hunter in the property sector.
Another of the one-cap wonders, Pool-Jones only started the opening Test against Australia after Pat Sanderson fell ill. Pool-Jones had chances to tour with England again in 2001, but he turned it down due to his club commitments with Stade Francais. Pool-Jones, who also played with Biarritz and Wasps, has remained an integral part of the Stade committee and after a spell as sporting director he has returned to his role as vice-president.
In 1998, Richmond winger Chapman was the most sought-after figure in English rugby having scored 20 tries for Richmond. However, his prolific try-scoring form did not convert to the international stage as he became a victim of the ‘Tour of Hell’, making his debut and final appearance in the 76-0 hammering against Australia in 1998. Chapman went on to make a high-profile move to National League 1 side Bracknell. He is now a marketing director in London.
After becoming Gloucester’s first full-time professional in 1996, lock Sims was called into the England squad and made three appearances during the tour. He made his debut in the 64-22 defeat to New Zealand before featuring in a second reverse at the hands of the All Blacks as well as the loss to South Africa. After 12 years with Gloucester Sims went to on join Bedford Blues starting his coaching career with Western Counties club Wellington, although he stepped down after five years in charge in November 2013.
Former Leicester Tigers centre enjoyed just two minutes of international rugby as a blood replacement during the 76-0 defeat to Australia. Sharing a position with England captain Will Carling limited his opportunity to feature and after being called up for the 1998 Six Nations he missed out through injury. After announcing his retirement in 2000 Potter went on to work in property rental and commercial insurance before becoming director of Agent Rugby Limited.
Sale centre played two full Tests for England, making his debut in the 40-10 loss to New Zealand before making his final appearance against South Africa a week later South Africa. Baxendell made 131 appearances for Sale and was considered for the role of head coach following the sacking of former All Black Mike Brewer. Baxendell did work with the club as backs coach and skills coach as well as a stint assisting with the Russia team. He now focuses on his role as a consultant surveyor.
Former Bath and Gloucester lock earned two caps on the tour, debuting in the second defeat to the All Blacks and then featuring against Springboks. Although the latter stages of his professional career were troubled by knee injuries, Fidler went on to join National League side Cinderford before taking on his first player-coach role at Old Patesians RFC in Cheltenham.