England may need Grand Slam, says 2003 World Cup winner Neil Back

Neil Back, a man who tasted World Cup glory with England back in 2003, believes the Six Nations has taken on added importance for Stuart Lancaster's side.

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England showed during the Autumn Internationals that they are capable of holding their own against the best in the business.

The knack of being able to grind out results is still missing, though, with New Zealand and South Africa showing them how it’s done at Twickenham.

That is a slight concern as the countdown to the 2015 World Cup continues, with Stuart Lancaster’s side once again set to be thrown into the pressure cooker environment of competing in their own backyard.

That could be a help or a hindrance, but there is also a lot of water to pass under the bridge before then.

For England, the Six Nations has taken on added importance, with it vital that momentum established during victories over Samoa and Australia is maintained when focus shifts to European foes.

Neil Back believes Lancaster’s troops may have to achieve the Grand Slam in order to be considered true contenders for global glory later in the year, with his class of 2003 the last to pull off such a feat and fire themselves towards sporting immortality in Australia.

Back, speaking at a Brother UK event, told HITC Sport: “I’m pleased we managed to get two back-to-back victories with the Autumn Internationals. Going into the series with the run up that we had to the first game in particular, against the world champions New Zealand having not played ourselves since the summer tour and them playing a number of games in the lead up, they were up and running. It was always going to be a difficult task for us and to finish only three points adrift, I think was a credible performance. To back that up against South Africa, number two in the world, and again be very close, was again very credible.

“The scorelines perhaps don’t reflect the games – New Zealand could have won by a greater margin, but we found a way and particularly against South Africa, 14 points adrift at one point, to have the composure to close that to 20-20, although we went on to lose the game marginally, I think we can accept that we are a good side. But good sides don’t win World Cups, great sides do, so the challenge the England management and players have got is settling on combinations in terms of selection – with a difficult opening to the Six Nations against Wales on Friday 6th February, we need to win that game.

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“To win a World Cup, you have to win seven games on the bounce. England haven’t done that since England won the World Cup in 2003 and only two sides have won seven games on the bounce recently, and they are numbers one and two in the world in New Zealand and South Africa. We have got an opportunity now with the Six Nations to complete the task of winning the Six Nations, the Grand Slam, and that will give us tremendous belief and hope going forward onto the World Cup at the end of that year.”

Pressed on how important it is for England to see off the challenge of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France in February and March, Back added: “I think it helps. Winning Grand Slams doesn’t mean that you are going to win the World Cup, or losing one doesn’t mean that you can’t win a World Cup, but England are definitely one of those teams that the rest of the world will fear and they need to get their game right.

“But ultimately what England need to prove is, on consecutive weekends, they can beat the best teams in the world. We need to demonstrate against our opposition in the Six Nations that we can beat them. It’s pressure and there will be a huge expectation on England. We have got three home games, but we have got two very difficult away fixtures against Wales and the surprise package of the Autumn Internationals, Ireland, who look to be heading in a very positive direction.”

The big question now is: Can England win the World Cup? Can the achievements of Back and company from 2003 be emulated on home soil?

A man capped on 66 occasions by his country added: “My heart says, yes. They are definitely a team that can, but my head says they might struggle under the intense pressure and scrutiny and the understanding of one another won’t quite be there because they haven’t played many games together. I hope that I’m proved wrong and that my heart wins through.”

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Neil Back was speaking on behalf of Brother UK, the leading information, communications and technology brand. Brother UK has been helping businesses work smarter for over 50 years. For more information visit Brother.co.uk.