Stuart Lancaster wants England to rise to “the biggest challenge in rugby” against New Zealand
Coach urges his players to consign All Blacks to second defeat inside 12 months
England coach Stuart Lancaster: “If we want to be genuine World Cup contenders we’ve got to have the belief we can win these games,” he says. Photograph: Getty Images
Stuart Lancaster is urging his players to rise to “the biggest challenge in rugby” and consign New Zealand to a second successive defeat at Twickenham inside 12 months. The England head coach also believes his side have little choice but to start beating the top teams consistently if they want to be a serious threat at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The All Blacks’ recent record is outstanding, with only one defeat in their last 33 Test matches. Since that solitary reverse in London 12 months ago they have reeled off a dozen straight victories but England believe they can replicate their 38-21 success if they play with the same single-minded energy and focus. “If we want to be genuine World Cup contenders we’ve got to have the belief we can win these games,” said Lancaster.
“We will still have a pretty young, pretty inexperienced team come Saturday but we will be hugely motivated by the greatest challenge in rugby. When you play the best team in the world you are in for a huge physical, mental and technical examination. But we’ve won our last six games at home . . . we’ve got a young side with a growing confidence within it.”
The way France rattled the All Blacks in Paris on Saturday night before narrowly losing 26-19 has also encouraged optimism that England have a chance of securing back-to-back wins over New Zealand for only the second time in the history of games between the two nations. The last time it happened was in 2002-03 prior to Clive Woodward’s squad winning the 2003 World Cup.
Lancaster believes the key is not to be carried away by the emotion of the occasion and to replicate the calm, ruthless mind-set which paid such dividends last time. “We will talk about what lessons we learned last year and how we can set about applying them. You don’t want to make things too complicated.
“For me it’s about the internal drive we want to put into the players to take on the best in the world. Last year, even though we’d lost the two previous games, we still had a strong self-belief we could go and win the third. We’ve got the same inner confidence this time but we still recognise that to beat them we’ve got to put in a level of performance above and beyond the two games we’ve had so far.”
England, having already beaten Australia and Argentina on consecutive Saturdays, are likely to take the field with only eight of the starting XV which defeated the All Blacks a year ago, injuries having ruled out Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt, two of their three try-scorers that day.
Lancaster neatly sidestepped the question of whether Steve Hansen’s team had been grievously affected by the virus which affected the squad in the build-up to that game, preferring to emphasise the importance of staying mentally strong for the full 80 minutes. “New Zealand have got fantastic strike runners and some astute game-managers. You know there will be times when they are in ascendancy. It is about not panicking under that pressure, coming out the other side and staying in the game for 80 minutes. That’s what it takes to beat them.”
England will not confirm their line-up until Thursday and Lancaster hinted his hardest task would be keeping a lid on his players’ excitement. “We don’t want to get caught up in the emotion of the game too early.”