England tour of South Africa
Leonard: Performance the key for England
June 3, 2012
Stuart Lancaster should be focused on performance, and not results, in South Africa, according to Jason Leonard © PA Photos
England must favour performances over results during their three-Test tour of South Africa, according to former prop Jason Leonard.
Stuart Lancaster is busy readying his troops for the first Test in Durban, which takes place next Saturday, with further Tests to follow in Johannesburg (June 16) and Port Elizabeth (June 23).
Following a successful Six Nations campaign that saw England finish second behind Grand Slam-winning Wales, Lancaster takes charge of his first tour as head coach knowing that the pressure is on to continue the progress shown earlier in the year.
However, despite Lancaster and his young 42-man squad falling under the microscope, Leonard says of paramount importance is they way in which England play, rather than whether they win or lose.
"I don't think there's anything definitive in regards of wins for England, I think it's basically got to be all about the performance," he told ESPNscrum. "We saw England grow and play some great rugby in the Six Nations. They got better and better as the tournament wore on. They improved from where they were after the disastrous World Cup campaign in New Zealand. The only criteria that you've got to look for is that performance.
"We still want to see them get better, we want to see them improve. I don't think anybody's saying anything like 'oh it's got be a 3-0 win or 2-1', I think, honestly, we're taking a young side and we want to see that improvement continue. It's the only thing we've got to demand from this current England side.
"If they lose 3-0 but by one point in every game, and they've played well, I would say they are still improving as a team and it wouldn't be an absolute disaster. Sometimes we look all the time at 'how many wins should they get?' and 'what is acceptable?'. But we want to see them grow. Granted they will lose games along the way - we can't be naive to think they will be unbeaten all the way through to the World Cup in 2015, but you want to see that improvement. If that means they lose a couple of games along the way then so be it.
"If we see this current trend continue and they carry on playing well then hopefully the wins will come along with it. I'm not too hung up about winning and losing. The most important thing for this England team is performance; how well they play."
Leonard reserved special mention for interim backs coach Mike Catt, insisting his former England team-mate has the tools to get the three-quarter line firing over the summer.
"The inclusion of Mike Catt as an attack coach will be great for England. He's very knowledgeable, he's a great communicator and he has a great relationship with the players. I think Mike will give them a sharp introduction of what's expected at international level. We can see the forwards have got the makings of a very good pack, one that most probably could take on some of the best in the world. For me, it's our backline [that needs attention] and making sure they improve is key.
"Our defence was fantastic [in the Six Nations] and Owen Farrell is very similar to Jonny Wilkinson and you can't get better accolades than that. It's just our attacking play that needs addressing. They're playing in South Africa, on fast pitches, and it will be about running rugby. You can't go to South Africa and beat South Africa with a kicking game. We've got to play some rugby."
A host of uncapped players are among the 42-strong squad, including Harlequins loose-head prop Joe Marler, and Leonard is backing the 21-year-old to force his way into the frame for a place in Lancaster's starting XV.
"I think a little while ago there was a worry that he didn't have the temperament to play top class rugby but without a shadow of a doubt he's addressed those issues and no-one can possibly level that at him now. He's had a great season with Harlequins, but this is the next step up.
"Joe, after a very good season having won the Premiership cup final, has got to step up to the next level and be part of a Test environment in South Africa. He might be pretty close to starting in the first test. I'm confident that having seen him make great strides in the season that he has the ability to cope at that level."
South Africa is a notoriously tough place to tour but Leonard says England will only be stronger as a result of playing in such "hostile" conditions.
Leonard added: "I think experiencing different cultures and different ways of playing the game is a good thing. South Africa's a great place to tour, the public love touring sides coming over because rugby's such a passion over there. It will be a great learning curve. It will introduce the younger, more inexperience players to top class opposition away from home in that hostile environment. It's only a good thing.
"It won't be an easy tour for England but all the young players will learn a massive amount about themselves and their team-mates. South Africa hav some fantastic players. They've got some big, hard, aggressive rugby players. You're coming up against one of the best teams in the world but what a great tour to be part of."
Jason Leonard was helping out with Mitcham RFC's renovation work during the RBS RugbyForce weekend. For more information on the programme visit rbs.com/rugbyforce.
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