Care blow further depletes England
1:16pm Friday 6th June 2014 in © Press Association 2014
England's ill-fated preparations for their first Test against New Zealand demanded one final twist and it duly arrived on Friday when the farcical circumstances of Danny Care's withdrawal emerged.
Care has been replaced by Ben Youngs at scrum-half for the series opener at Eden Park because of a shoulder injury sustained during a comical fall at training on Monday that saw him slip after stubbing his toe while attempting a kick.
England's amusement - assistant coach Andy Farrell described the fall as "absolutely hilarious" - vanished 48 hours later when the extent of the damage was revealed and Care was ruled out.
It was a fitting completion to the build up to the first of four successive Tests against the world champions that had already been undermined by an injury crisis and the absence of all Aviva Premiership finalist due to fixture congestion.
"It was Danny's own fault actually. It was a rubbish kick," Farrell said.
"He stubbed his foot on the floor and missed the ball completely. He fell over and hurt his shoulder.
"It was absolutely hilarious. I burst out laughing but then realised it wasn't too funny.
"It was a little grubber through on the floor, which he miskicked. He won't be doing it again!
"I've got it on tape. I showed it to all the lads the next day - it was hilarious.
"But it wasn't quite as good two days later when he wasn't playing in the Test match. Anyway, we'll get over it."
Care is expected to resume training early next week with a view to returning in time for the second Test in Dunedin on Saturday week.
The Harlequins half-back has acted as the catalyst for England's improved attacking game this season and his absence means a jet-lagged Lee Dickson will start on the bench three days after landing in New Zealand.
Dickson was among the second wave of arrivals at Auckland after helping Northampton win the Premiership final last Saturday.
"Lee has slotted in pretty well. His jet lag has been a very smooth transition. He seems fine and is very chirpy," Farrell said.
Even before Care's withdrawal England were viewed by local bookmakers as 8/1 underdogs, as 1/16 favourites New Zealand aim for their 15th successive Test victim.
Of gravest concern is the 10-12 channel, which the All Blacks are sure to test mercilessly though their main ball-carriers Liam Messam, Jerome Kaino and Ma'a Nonu.
Between them fly-half Freddie Burns and inside centre Kyle Eastmond - both England's fourth choice in their position - have five caps.
Furthermore, Burns' form has been dismal this season while the diminutive Eastmond, who must shackle Nonu, has not played for over a month after falling out of favour at Bath.
England have been forced to turn to their third choice hooker in Rob Webber and must hope he blows away the cobwebs as quickly as possible after a five-week spell on the sidelines because of a knee injury.
Otherwise it is a reasonable England team, although unlikely to be strong enough to inflict a first defeat on the All Blacks at Eden Park for 20 years.
For all the setbacks, Farrell has revealed a steely resolve within the camp to deliver only the nation's third victory on Kiwi soil.
"These players all want to prove they can do it on the biggest stage and there's no bigger stage than Eden Park," Farrell said.
"Belief comes with hard work. It's about your preparation and that's what we've always been about.
"We all know our jobs inside out. Our work ethic off the pitch has been fantastic so why wouldn't they believe?
"They've done the work now, they need to go out there and play the game in the moment. Don't play the occasion.
"The people who don't give us a chance are those who don't know the journey we've been on so far.
"We've been getting better fairly rapidly, have taken in some big games and challenges. This is a big as it gets. We'll see if we improve again."