England’s players have been urged to create memories which will last a lifetime when they kick off the Rugby World Cup this Friday.
In an emotional address to his squad, the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, said he believed they can collectively conquer the world and reminded them the next seven weeks represent the biggest opportunity of their careers.
Lancaster, who has named an unchanged starting XV for the opening Pool A fixture against Fiji at Twickenham, sees no reason why England cannot maximise home advantage and summoned everyone involved to a meeting on Sunday night to hammer home the message.
“We have an experienced team who are good enough and old enough to go well in this tournament, no doubt,” said Lancaster. “I was trying to build their belief that they can go on and win the tournament. Not in an arrogant way, in a positive way. Why would we do all the work and get here and then think: ‘Can we, can’t we?’ We’ve just got to believe we can.”
The Saracens centre Brad Barritt described it as “a fantastic meeting” which had inspired every player, not least a video showing a young player dreaming of playing for England and subsequently playing in a home World Cup.
“I think each player came out feeling a bigger part of something special and feeling really honoured to be a part of this ride,” said Barritt. “Both the video and the way Stuart spoke was hugely emotive. I have no doubt it will resonate throughout the squad.”
The reserve hooker Rob Webber, who has earned the nod on the bench ahead of Jamie George, was equally stirred. “Stuart just talked about what it would be like if the tournament goes well and the memories we can create if we do as well as we think we can,” he said.
Lancaster has also made clear England will never have more support than they will enjoy in the coming weeks. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a World Cup at home in England. The energy a crowd can give the team is huge and it makes it doubly difficult for the opposition. 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.”
Having already attended the official ‘send off’ dinner at the O2, where they shared the stage with Take That, and enjoyed Saturday’s capping ceremony at Sandhurst, the players are beginning to realise just how big a deal it will be if they start winning consistently.
“You have to turn that weight of expectation into a positive,” stressed Lancaster. “It is down to me to tell them to go and experience the time of their lives, to be positive about the rugby they play and not hold them accountable for every little mistake. We will try and keep it business as usual this week but we also need to ramp it up at some point as it’s not a normal game.”
Lancaster has brushed aside concerns about opponents potentially spying on his team’s training sessions, pointing out that modern video analysis is so detailed it reduces any need to hide in the shrubbery.
He has also dismissed speculation in Australia that Sam Burgess, also named on the bench, might return to rugby league sooner rather than later.
“I had a long conversation with him and it wasn’t mentioned once,” said Lancaster. “I don’t consider it an issue. He has come to rugby union because he wants to play international rugby union and he has ambitions further down the line. He wants to play in this World Cup and the next one.”
The England hooker Dylan Hartley, meanwhile, has been replaced as captain of Northampton. Hartley, who missed out on World Cup selection after being suspended for his club, has lost the job to the scrum-half Lee Dickson.
This article was written by Robert Kitson, for theguardian.com on Monday 14th September 2015 22.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010