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Fin Baxter called into starting XV as England look to snap All Blacks’ 30-year streak
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Fin Baxter called into starting XV as England look to snap All Blacks’ 30-year streak

The Harlequins prop Fin Baxter is set to make his first start for England after being promoted from the bench to replace the injured Joe Marler against New Zealand on Saturday. England need to win to level the two-Test series at a venue where the All Blacks have not lost for 30 years.

Aside from backing the 22-year-old Baxter and elevating Sale’s Bevan Rodd to the match-day 23, England head coach Steve Borthwick has retained the same players that were beaten 16-15 in Dunedin last weekend. Dan Cole will again start on the bench and is poised to become England’s most capped men’s forward, beating Jason Leonard, when he comes on to win his 115th cap.

Only Ben Youngs, with 127 caps, is now ahead of Cole and Borthwick says the Leicester tighthead fully deserves the accolade.

“I’d like to pay special tribute to Dan Cole who will become England’s second-most capped men’s player of all time on the weekend,” Borthwick said. “Dan has shown nothing but dedication and determination throughout his career, and reaching this milestone is a remarkable feat. He is a superb rugby player, a wonderful role model, and we all look forward to sharing a memorable day with him on Saturday.”

Borthwick also said England would not be daunted by New Zealand’s impressive record at Eden Park over the years.

“Eden Park is a stadium packed with history and with memories of great rugby encounters,” Borthwick said. “New Zealand has a formidable record at this venue but with that comes the pressure of expectation. It will be interesting to see how New Zealand manages that expectation in front of a full house.”

The inclusion of scrum-half Finlay Christie is the only change to the All Blacks starting XV, with Cortez Ratima set for his Test debut off the bench following the leg injury suffered by TJ Perenara last weekend. It will be Christie’s first Test start since the All Blacks 23-20 win over Australia in Dunedin in August 2023.

The All Blacks 48-game unbeaten record at Eden Park stretches back to 1994 and has featured 46 wins and two draws. “It’s a very special venue to the All Blacks,” said New Zealand head coach Scott Robertson. “We’re going there on Saturday to win the series against England.”

New Zealand starting XV: Perofeta; Reece, R Ioane, J Barrett, Tele’a; McKenzie, Christie; De Groot, Taylor, Lomax, S Barrett (capt), Tuipulotu, Finau, Papali’i, Savea.

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Replacements: Aumua, Tu’ungafasi, Newell, Vaa’i, Jacobson, Ratima, Lienert-Brown, B Barrett.

England starting XV: Furbank; Feyi-Waboso, Slade, Lawrence, Freeman; Smith, Mitchell; Baxter, George (capt), Cole, Itoje, Martin, Cunningham-South, Underhill, Earl.

Replacements: Dan, Rodd, Stuart, Coles, Curry, B Spencer, F Smith, Sleightholme.

Source: theguardian.com