Brown injury boost for England
England finally received some comforting news ahead of the first Test against New Zealand after Mike Brown declared himself fit for the June 7 clash.
Less than 24 hours after it emerged that Bath fly-half George Ford will miss the tour to undergo shoulder surgery, Brown insisted he will be ready to face the All Blacks.
The 28-year-old sustained a hip injury in Harlequins' Aviva Premiership semi-final defeat by Saracens on Saturday, but is on track to resume training on Monday.
England depart for New Zealand the following day and by the time they run out at Eden Park, Brown expects to be fit to continue an outstanding season.
"It's a deep hip muscle injury," said Brown, winner of England player of the year at the Rugby Players Association awards dinner on Wednesday night.
"I gave everything a big yank when I was twisted in the tackle on that turf. I overstretched it all.
"It's feeling good each day. A bit more recovery and on Monday I'll be ready to rock and roll in training. It's definitely looking good for that first Test.
"I've had the same problem before after tough games, but to a lesser extent, so I know how to get rid of it and what I need to do.
"I've got great people around me to help me get fit and I can't wait to get out to New Zealand."
Brown's improving fitness will be greeted with relief by head coach Stuart Lancaster, who has seen his plans for the first Test continue to unravel amid Ford's withdrawal.
Official confirmation that the 21-year-old requires an operation is expected after Friday night's Amlin Challenge Cup final against Northampton in Cardiff.
Ford was destined to start at Eden Park as Owen Farrell and Stephen Myler are involved in the Premiership final on May 31 and will be unavailable until the second Test.
Lancaster must choose between the recently returned Danny Cipriani, out of form Freddie Burns or Billy Twelvetrees, who is struggling with an ankle injury, at fly-half.
Adding to Lancaster's concerns, besides the absence of players from Premiership finalists Northampton and Saracens, is a crisis at hooker where potentially his first three choices in the position will be unable to tour.
Tom Youngs has been ruled out for personal reasons and Dylan Hartley and Rob Webber are struggling with respective shoulder and knee problems.
Furthermore, British and Irish Lions forwards Alex Corbisiero and Tom Croft have been given the summer off after returning from long-term injuries, while prop Dan Cole and wing Jack Nowell are in the treatment room.
Against this bleak backdrop England will attempt to complete a maiden series victory in New Zealand having posted only two previous victories there in 12 attempts dating back to 1963.
History and circumstance, however, are unable to dim Brown's belief that the 2015 World Cup hosts are capable of toppling the all-conquering All Blacks.
"I don't see why we can't win this series. We've put in two good performances against New Zealand, beaten them once and narrowly lost once," he said.
"It will be unbelievably tough playing the number one team on their home patch.
"They'll come flying into us and the fact we're missing a few guys for that first Test makes it even harder for us.
"But there are guys who will come in and will be desperate to show what they can do in an England shirt."