Autumn setback for beaten England

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Stuart Lancaster admits he is powerless to prevent England from playing the first Test of their summer tour to New Zealand with a weakened team.

The opening international against the All Blacks is scheduled for June 7, one week after the Aviva Premiership final at Twickenham.

The proximity of the dates means Lancaster is resigned to being unable to field his first-choice side until the second Test on June 14.

While England’s head coach still regards the series as a worthwhile exercise, he accepts the scheduling issue will hamstring preparations for the opening international.

“I don’t think it renders the series meaningless but it’s certainly not ideal. I wouldn’t have chosen this way,” he said.

“There’s nothing to be done at this point. It was an inherited situation I found myself in.”

The biggest area of concern for Lancaster to address before departing for the toughest assignment in the sport is a midfield that flopped once again in Saturday’s 30-22 defeat to the Kiwis at Twickenham.

Outside centre Joel Tomkins may have played his last Test for some time after struggling throughout the autumn, although he was not helped against the All Blacks by Owen Farrell’s distribution.

Farrell lacks the craft to ignite England’s backline, but Billy Twelvetrees grew into the distributor role at 12, justifying the management’s faith in his ability.

Two British and Irish Lions centres in Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt are missing to injury, but only Barritt is expected to return for the RBS 6 Nations early next year.

Wing also remains a problem position with Chris Ashton surely having exhausted Lancaster’s goodwill, while Marland Yarde and Christian Wade are still novices.

Lancaster said: “You can’t overestimate the impact of losing the quality of the players we have lost, even the two young wingers who we were potentially going to blood this series.”