‘He made us believe’
England can win a second Rugby World Cup if it repeats 'the intensity and precision' it showed in the semifinal victory over New Zealand its 2003 tournament-winning coach Clive Woodward said.
The 63 year old Englishman - whose side beat present England head coach Eddie Jones's Australia - added the caveat England faced a major challenge to climb 'that Everest again' to beat South Africa in Saturday's final.
Woodward, who is in Japan as a TV pundit, conceded in his Daily Mail column the Springboks have strengths which could hurt England but will not be in the same parish if Jones's men manage to repeat the level
Woodward's opinion was shared by players past and present. Former All Blacks great Andrew Mehrtens - who suffered his own crushing World Cup disappointment in losing to South Africa in the 1995 final - and England scrum-half Danny Care, who was omitted from the squad after a loss of form, believe England will lift the Webb Ellis trophy.
Mehrtens - capped 70 times - said the Springboks, who edged Wales 19-16 were the only team capable of giving the English a run for their money.
"If England play like they did against the All Blacks in the final on Saturday then I would say the World Cup is theirs," Mehrtens said in his column for The Times. "It is hard to see anybody beating them but the only team I could see staying with them are South Africa.
"New Zealand could at their best, but the Springboks' size and physique means that they can handle that side of the game. "They will have to be immense, though, because that was the best England performance I have seen," added the 46 year old South Africa-born former fly-half.
Care, England's second most capped scrum-half with 84, said the whole squad's mentality changed when Jones took over following the hosts humiliating first round exit in 2015.
"I will always remember him saying: 'I look around this room and I genuinely believe this group of players can win the World Cup in four years' time," Care said in his Daily Telegraph column. "I think you can be the best team in the world and it will change your lives and your families' lives forever. Just those few words gave the whole room a massive lift. He made us believe in a way we never really had before."
Care said England should be able to deal with the Springboks. "South Africa pose a very different threat (to New Zealand)," he said.
England's head coach Eddie Jones (centre) leads a training session at the Fuchu Asahi Football Park on Tuesday