Olympic spirit can carry us home, says Lancaster
Stuart Lancaster will send his players out for the opening game of the World Cup against Fiji tonight urging not just his squad but the entire nation to be more “front foot” in their pride at being English.
The head coach wants supporters to recreate the Olympic spirit of the London Games in 2012 to fire his side’s bid to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for the first time since 2003.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a World Cup at home in England,” said Lancaster.
“The energy a crowd can give the team is huge and it makes it doubly difficult for the opposition. The players can feel that the country is behind them. It has to be an extra level of motivation. We are not as front foot as we should be in our pride at being English.”
Tom Wood, the England flanker named in the side to face Fiji, echoed that sentiment, saying: “Stuart has talked a lot about being on the front foot with English identity and our national pride – we know what that can do for us.
“We want to try to harness that. We know what it did for the British athletes at the Olympics and we want some of that. We know it is a two-way thing. We have to go out there and give them something to cheer, we have to show real intent, endeavour and execute well. Hopefully, on the back of that, there will be a snowball effect. They will get behind us and carry us through.
“We’re not entitled to win it [the World Cup]. There are some great teams out there and I can’t promise you success, but all I can say is that we’ve left no stone unturned in terms of our preparation.
“Everyone has given themselves to the cause, handed themselves over and committed to making each other better. I feel ready.”
Wood revealed that England’s preparations this week had included tasking the players not involved in the starting line-up to mimic the side-stepping, off-loading game that makes Fiji such a dangerous opponent. We have encouraged them to throw the ball around and have a go from everywhere, to try things and catch us off guard,” he said. “We have been taking quick line-outs in training but we try and do that because we want to get the speed of training up anyway.
“There is a conditioning element to it, the concentration when you are tired. There has been a slight increase.”
Asked what it would take from England’s defensive effort to nullify the attacking threats of players such as Nemani Nadolo, Nikola Matawalu and Leicester centre Vereniki Goneva, Wood insisted that Lancaster’s side would not be found wanting. He said: “It is about collective pressure. If you race up individually and you have one guy with loads of energy and the others watch him do it, he will probably get stepped and the energy used against him.
“You need that next guy following up, if somebody steps they have no momentum because they end up in a big tackle and they have slow ball and are on the back foot.
“Fiji on the front foot, with their running game, the ball in the wide channels, are incredibly dangerous. We have to see how they react on the back foot, with stodgy ball.
“Fiji will be underdogs and that will galvanise them, as will the sense of occasion and the hype. It will bring the best out in them. But I feel I can speak for the whole team – we look ready in training.
“We lacked some cohesion in the first two warm-up games against France. I feel we showed what we are capable of against Ireland but we still feel there is more to come.
“We feel we can step it up another gear from there.”
Focused: Tom Wood reveals the England players ‘have given themselves to the cause, being committed to making each other better’