sport

May stands up for England

Jonny May has issued a defiant response to the perception in New Zealand that England will be lambs to the slaughter.

Stuart Lancaster's tourists have been installed as 1/16 underdogs by local bookmakers for Saturday's first Test in Auckland with an expectant home public eager to toast a resounding All Blacks victory.

The statistics make for frightening reading; New Zealand are chasing a 15th successive victory, have won every match at Eden Park since 1994 and have lost just once since lifting the World Cup in 2011.

In contrast England have been hamstrung by the absence of key players from Aviva Premiership finalists Northampton and Saracens and an injury list that has accounted for four Test British and Irish Lions.

It is against this backdrop that the tourists are being billed as victims in waiting, but May insists Saturday's outcome is no foregone conclusion.

"We have got nothing to lose going, but at the same time we have great players in our team," the Gloucester wing said.

"We are going forward as a team at the moment. We are not a rubbish team, we have good principles, we have good structures and everyone is buying into that.

"We are a tough outfit to play against for anyone, irrelevant of the new players that have come in because of the culture we have created as a team and the way we play. It is easy for players to jump in to it.

"We are underdogs for this game. People have written us off in a way, but that's not an excuse.

"We put pressure on ourselves as a group, we want a performance and we will go out there and give it everything."

England experienced mixed fortunes on Tuesday with the news that influential All Black Kieran Read will miss the first Test due to concussion being offset by Billy Twelvetrees' absence from training once again.

The loss of number eight Read, the International Rugby Board's player of the year, will be keenly felt while a doubt hangs over prolific wing Julian Savea who is struggling with a knee injury.

England's own plans have been disrupted yet again with Twelvetrees' inability to take part in the final training session before Lancaster names his team on Wednesday night almost certainly pointing to his exclusion from the 23 on Saturday.

The 25-year-old from Gloucester, who has been sidelined since May 3 because of an ankle problem, is set to be replaced by Bath's Kyle Eastmond.

Of some comfort to Lancaster is the ongoing good health of May, whose enthusiastic running during the RBS 6 Nations ensures he will continue on the left wing when England's schedule resumes on Saturday.

May has yet to cross the international whitewash, but understands the reasons behind that shortcoming.

"During the Six Nations I learnt that Test rugby is a big mental jump - the pressure, accuracy and intensity are higher, but I thought I came out of it a better player," he said.

"We weren't great at Gloucester at the end of the season but I went away and worked on things and I feel more confident in myself.

"In the Six Nations I noticed a couple of times that I could have backed myself a little bit more on the outside.

"I think that's a confidence thing, being involve in that for the first time. I have gone back to club level and worked on that."

"It was frustrating coming off the pitch thinking I could have gone for it then. It just wasn't quite there but I've learnt from it and I want to put it right."