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England coach Lancaster won't bemoan absence of key players for 1st test vs All Blacks

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand - England rugby coach Stuart Lancaster says his team cannot afford to "sit and moan" that it will be without a dozen leading players when it meets New Zealand in the opening match of a three-test series.

Players from Saracens and Northampton, which meet this weekend in the final of England's domestic competition, will arrive in New Zealand too late to be considered for selection for the first test on June 7.

Former England coach Clive Woodward, in a column in Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, described the scheduling of the tour as "absolutely insane" and said England risked a repeat of the 1998 "Tour from Hell" when it was thrashed 76-0 by Australia and lost tests to New Zealand by 64-22 and 40-10.

Woodward said the England squad was "starting on the back foot" and it would be a great credit to Lancaster if the team came out of a tour to "the hardest school in world rugby" with more positives than negatives.

When asked about Woodward's comments, Lancaster said he " wouldn't go as far as saying those things."

"It's not ideal when you come to play the world champions in their own backyard and you haven't got your best side available," he said. "But it's a situation I inherited.

"We're not going to sit and moan about it. When you look at the side we've got available for this first test, virtually everyone has played international rugby in the last 12 months. We're confident in the lads we've got and it will just add to my selection problems when (the other players) come out for the second test."

Lancaster portrayed the England tour as a stepping stone towards next year's World Cup and expected his players to thrive on the challenge of playing three tests against New Zealand and a midweek match against Super Rugby's Crusaders.

"We wouldn't come out here if we didn't believe we could (be competitive) but we're very, very respectful of the opposition we're playing," he said. "A lot of the players here have played the All Blacks twice now and got a good win in 2012. They're looking forward to pitching selves against the best again."

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