sport

Twelvetrees doubt for England

Billy Twelvetrees is England's only outstanding injury concern heading into Saturday's first Test against New Zealand at Eden Park.

The Gloucester centre has been sidelined for one month with an ankle problem and will miss training again on Monday, although head coach Stuart Lancaster insists he remains in the frame for selection.

Fears over the fitness of hooker Rob Webber and prop Joe Marler have receded following their recovery from ankle and hip problems and the front rows are set to start the series opener against the All Blacks.

Instead, it is Twelvetrees' troublesome ankle that is causing the biggest headache, with Lancaster set to name his team on Wednesday night.

"Billy still hasn't trained fully so we'll see how he progresses during the course of the week, but the clock is ticking now," Lancaster said.

"He's the major one, everyone else should be good to go."

Lancaster reported a clean bill of health on the Northampton and Saracens players involved in Saturday's Aviva Premiership final.

Number eight Billy Vunipola and fly-half Owen Farrell were suffering from cramp only and will reinforce the assault on the second and third Tests against the All Blacks when they arrive in New Zealand on Wednesday.

Lancaster was pleased with the performance of Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley, who completed his comeback from a shoulder injury as a second-half replacement in the 24-20 victory over Saracens.

"Dylan got on around 60 minutes and played the extra-time as well," Lancaster said.

"He seemed to come through fine and he'll definitely be on the plane as he's an experienced player for us.

"As to whether Dylan will start the second Test, I'll make that decision after the first Test."

Several players and members of the management team visited Eden Park on Friday night to watch the Blues' 37-24 Super 15 victory over the Hurricanes.

Auckland is basking in unusually warm weather for winter, but threatening to dispel England's sunshine is the fixture congestion and injury crises that means they will open their bid to complete a first series victory in New Zealand with an under-strength team.

Lancaster, however, is adamant he has the depth of playing resources to trouble the All Blacks even when missing some of his most valued performers.

"We're confident of the players we have and the side we can put out," he said.

"The Premiership is a very competitive league and there are a lot of good players who get developed in that league, so we should be confident.

"A lot of our players have played New Zealand twice and will be looking forward to the challenge on Saturday."